Thursday, July 6, 2023

Tuna Mousse - Cold Food for Hot Days

It wobbles, it jiggles, it's straight out of the beginning of the middle of the last century. It's wonderful. Wrong, somehow. But wonderful. And inhalable. 

We  - the Frenchman and I - used to eat it on our rooftop in Cobble Hill, accompanied by Don Estorbo, with a wide view over New York Harbor. In those days we had a single air conditioner, whose roaring was no match for the baking heat. The rooftop was our evening escape.

Please make a point of looking for reasonably sustainably sourced tuna. American Tuna, Wild Planet, or Whole Foods 365 brand are better 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 in olive oil, drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
4 cornichons (tiny cucumber pickles)
1 tablespoon capers
1 - 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

Whizz in a food processor till smooth. No food processor? Mash everything finely with a fork in bowl.

1/3 cup very hot/just boiled water
1 packet (1 tablespoon) gelatin

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

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

Pour tuna mousse-y mixture into a small bowl or mold. Chill for at least 2 hours. To unmold, slide a butter 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 cucumbers, or celery sticks. Or crackers. Or a spoon. Or on your own, with no one else watching.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Mulberry Pie

[First published June 2010; updated]

Mulberries. Taste of a Bloemfontein childhood, tree-climbing, stained hands and feet, a bowlful for dessert after a midday lunch around a table. 

In New York I find good mulberries rarely and when I do, they make me tremble. They are best eaten out of hand, or from a bowl with spoon.

But if you have too many? Lucky, lucky you - they make wonderful tarts.

The pastry I use was designated for apple pie in our house, when I was little. Molly Bolt, a friend of my grandmother's in Bloemfontein, circa 1960's, gave her the recipe. It called for margarine! I use butter.

I never met Molly Bolt, but her pastry lives on (it's in my first book, too, in June's serviceberry pie recipe).

The pie pastry does not need to rest. And it is surprisingly forgiving and versatile. I use it for pies small and large, in a spring-form cake tin, or individual muffin trays, or simply as a flat disk cooked on a baking sheet, to be topped with heaps of your favorite fruit. And: It does not have to be baked blind.

Mulberry Pies

Makes 12 muffin tray-sized pies, or 1 large pie (I bake mine in a springform cake pan).

Mulberry Filling:

5 cups mulberries, stalks removed
1 cup raspberries or serviceberries (Amelanchier sp.)
2 Tbsps sugar

Pie Pastry:

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

Preheat the oven to 350'F.

For the filling: 

Heat the fruits and sugar over medium heat in a saucepan till juice starts to flow. Cook at a simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer the fruit to a bowl with a slotted spoon (or strain it). Cook all the saved juice till syrupy. Pour the syrup over the berries and cool. 

For the pastry: 

Beat the butter and sugar till smooth, light and fluffy. Add the egg, with a dusting of flour. Gradually beat in the rest of the flour, baking powder and salt. For into two balls, and flatten slightly. Dust flour onto a board and roll the first pastry ball out thinly.

For a large pie:

Transfer the pastry on your rolling pin to your springform pan, and drape it inside, making sure it comes up the sides and drapes over, slightly. Patch any tears. Add the cool filling. Roll out the second, smaller ball of pastry and cover the pie. Crimp the edges together and cut some slits of steam. 

For muffin-tray pies:

Cut out individual circles to line the muffin tray. I use 3.75-inch cutters to line the tray,  and 2.5-inch cutters for the pie lids. Add cooled filling, and the lids. Crimp, and slit a steam vent in each.

Baking time varies. For a large tart, about 35 - 40  minutes. For small pies, check after 15 minutes. Either way, leave the pies in their baking pan or trays for 10 minutes before unmolding or removing - they are fragile while hot.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Cherry pie

This cherry pie filling is glorious with the compelling flavor of warm cherries. There is no thickening, no gloop, and no overcooking. The result is fresh, and addictive.

In an act of pie-defiance, I like bake pie in spring-form cake tin, unmolding the whole thing after it has baked.*

Cherry Pie Filling

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

Pie Pastry:

6 oz/175 grams unsalted butter
2.5 oz/75 grams sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
10.5 oz/300 grams all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried sweet clover or mahlab (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350'F. Butter the bottom and sides of spring-form cake tin.

For the filling: 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, swirling the pan occasionally. Simmer until the cherries are just cooked - about 8 more 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.

For the pastry: In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until smooth, light and fluffy. Add the egg, with a little flour to prevent the mixture from separating. Beat well. Gradually beat or stir in the rest of the flour, baking powder and salt. Shape into two balls, one larger than the other (1/3 to 2/3 of the pastry, respectively). Flatten each ball. The pastry does not need to chill (but does not suffer if you do chill it).

Roll the larger ball out thinly into a circle that will cover the bottom and reach up and over the sides of your cake pan. 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 the pan with the cooled cherry filling.

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 till the pastry is pale golden and crisp. Baking time varies, but it is in the realm of 35 - 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Gently loosen the edges before unlocking and lifting the spring-form. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Pine Cone Jam - what it is and how to use it

[Updated from May, 2019]

I began making pine cone jam in May 2019 (I posted about it @66squarefeet on Instagram) after a wonderful shoreline walk on the edges of New York City, where I noticed tiny-tiny baby pine cones. I was actually hunting for pine pollen, but these petite cones intrigued me. They were much tinier than the larger green cones I'd used before to make fermented syrup. I collected a little bagful. 

Looking for ideas back at home, I chanced upon a reference to this jam, and one helpful recipe that noted Georgian heritage. I also scoured searched my Russian and Georgian cookbooks, but came up with nothing. At the time there was very little online. Although I did find bottles of pricey mugolio. It's the richly-flavored syrup that forms during cooking the young pine cones and sold in Italy - the name taken from the pine species Pinus mugo. My first Instagram posts about the jam exploded, and the recipe I posted back then may have nudged things along quite rapidly, online: You will now find many more recent posts and videos.

Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seem to like it. Pine cone jam (sometimes the resulting syrup is referred to and sold as pine honey) is considered treat and medicine. Used for coughs. 

The flavor is tartly sweet, resinous, and the "honey" is like molasses licked from a spoon in a pine forest. It's really nice in drinks.

And it's hard to imagine that the hard little cones become soft and chewable after cooking, but they do.

A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is as a medicinal spoonful stirred into hot black tea. I like them dotted sparingly on crunchy toast atop labneh. Their honey-slash-syrup is delicious roasted with carrots and other root vegetables, stirred into the pan juices to pour over pan-seared pork chops, or duck breast (perhaps deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar), or for dessert, mixed with the first 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. It makes noteworthy seasonal cocktails.

The pine cones I collect are mostly from 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 (its little cones are very sharp and rough on the fingers). 

You want immature, small cones, green inside.

While you work, it helps to have rubbing alcohol handy: Your fingers get very sticky, and the alcohol is very effective at dissolving the resin. For clean up after cooking, use rubbing alcohol, again, or mineral oil, to dissolve the very tenacious resin residue on the edges of your pot and any implements you use. 

The first time I made the jam I experimented with five different batches. For the first three I boiled the cones in water (to remove some resin), then another three times in syrup, in the tradition of Russian varenye, where entire fruits are cooked and cooled - important -  multiple times in syrup. 

I also boiled four and five times, and for the final batch made the jam without the water bath, and using honey instead of sugar. That last version was much more resinous when cool, above! It all got stuck. I liked them all, but four seems the magic number, to me. 

The point is that the jam needs to come to a boil often enough for the green cones to be pleasantly chewable, so the number of boil-cools will vary, depending on big your baby pine cones are. Do not skip the cooling. It's time-consuming, but will result in delicious pine cones, rather than hard nuggets.

Pine Cone Jam

For three 1-cup capacity jars of pine cone jam you need:

8 oz (about 2.25 cups) finger-nail-sized immature pine cones*

6 cups water

2 cups sugar

*I've made jam with much larger cones, too. Their size matters less than green-ness. 

If the baby cones still have a piece of stem attached, remove it. Left on it will become tough during the cooking process. Sometimes I skip this part but always regret it! (It's sometimes easier to do this after the boiling step, below.)

The Pre-Boil: Place the pine cones in a pot, cover with water 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 scoop his layer off, and discard. Then drain the pine cones. 

The Jam: Once all the water is poured off, add the 2 cups of sugar and the 6 cups of water to the pot with the boiled cones. Stir. Return to the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers. Cook at a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and cool completely. 

When the mixture is cool, bring to a boil again, for 1 minute. Turn off and cool. 

Bring to a 1-minute boil for a third time, turn off the heat, then cool again. Repeat these steps until the liquid has transformed from watery to syrupy. 

Now test a cone. Is it chewable? 

If it is you can stop, and bottle the cones with their dark 'honey' in sterile jars. Or repeat the boil-cool steps until they have softened more and the honey is thick. It can take from five to eight boils, in my experience. 


Find more wild foods and recipes in my book:

Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine

Thursday, April 21, 2022

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 in some detail, if you don't.

Japanese knotweed hails from EastAsia, as its common name suggests, where it has natural pests and competition. But Reynoutria japonica  (its other botanical names are still floating about: Polygonum cuspidatum, Reynoutria 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 ground lamb
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs (or coarsely ground bread crumbs)
1 cup finely sliced scallions (or field garlic)
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
2 cups 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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Artichokes Barigoule and Some Men

First published on 24 July 2011

I adore artichokes. Curiously, most men I know do not. The same men don't like eating quail, or crabs. They say they are 'work'. I don't get it. Where they see work I see fun. Hm. Perhaps the men who don't like them are also men who don't cook? Weigh in if you have thoughts about this. Yes, you, too, men.

On the subject of which. Digression: for a month in August my 76-year-old  mom has to get up at sparrow fart to...cook my dad breakfast before he goes to work. Really. Why? Because Selina, their housekeeper, whose usual wonderful duty this is, is on holiday. The little table in the kitchen is laid, and he gets fruit - peeled and chopped  in a bowl (when his white cat Spook was in the land of the living she would share his papaya or melon, which she loved), tea, toast and...I think oats. I still hate oats (from silent early morning breakfasts at the same table when I was at school). He sits there in the window seat in his suit, polished shoes, and carefully combed hair, and has breakfast. It's another world. 

Back to artichokes. 

Here is a recipe where the cook does all the work, so I don't make this very often. It is time consuming, but the effort is rewarded by  the creamy, tangy combination of soft artichokes and herby, herb-perfumed sauce. The quantities are guidelines only. Figure on one artichoke heart per person if this is one of many dishes served at long summer lunch, as this one was, on New Year's Day, in Cape Town. Or share this amount with one special friend, as a main course with crusty bread and sweet butter.

If you want to be meaty, no harm in adding a few slices of pancetta to this.

10 medium artichokes
1 lemon's juice
1 big sweet carrot, sliced thinly
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
More lemon

Cut the stems of the artichokes to about 1 1/2 inches. Cut off the artichoke tops, then break off three or four rows of leaves from the base. Peel all the green from the artichoke bottoms and stems, and sprinkle each with lemon as you finish trimming it. Place them in cold water acidulated with the juice. Your fingers will become stained from peeling, so consider gloves.

Gently spread the leaves of each artichoke, and use a small spoon to remove the choke.

Peel the carrot and the onion, and cut them into thin slices. Chop three cloves of garlic, keeping the others whole.

To a heavy, non-reactive pan or heat-proof dish over medium heat, add the onion, carrot and all the garlic to the olive oil. Slowly cook until the onion begins to turn golden, and the carrots caramelize slightly. Then add the artichokes, stem side up. Add the herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the wine over the lot, and add enough water to barely cover the artichoke bottoms. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, or until the hearts are tender when pierced, then remove the lid and reduce the cooking liquid over high heat to thicken the sauce. Taste - very important. Correct seasoning and add another splash of lemon juice.

Serve warm or at room temperature. I prefer the latter in summer, of course.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Pork shoulder with anchos and orange

[First posted 5/21/2010; hence awful pictures. But really good pig!] 

Eric had five helpings. He may have had six. It's a bit like War and Peace. I can't remember whether I've read it six times. It may be five or it may be seven. If I read it first in 1994, and it's fourteen years later, once every couple of could be seven. Or six, since I could almost read it again. The point is, after the fourth time, does it matter? 

I kept telling him he'd be sick, but was very happy to keep spooning out meaty pieces from the large clay bowl where the pig, long fallen from its bones, was lying in the dark sauce of ancho, tomato, caramelized onion, Turkish dark pepper, lime, orange, thyme, oregano, brown sugar, pepper. With full-fat, organic sour cream to grace its rich, sweet, peppery corners, it was a bowl of very delicious pork.

The idea (pig/orange/tomato combo) came originally from Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking. Then I winged it.

Pork Shoulder with Anchos amd Orange
Feeds 6 - 8

Start prep at 10am in the morning. This is an all-day pig.

1 pork shoulder, skinned and slashed deeply (2")
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black 
2 Tbsp brown sugar
5 tomatoes, broiled till black (it sweetens them), keep skins on
2 medium yellow onions, quartered
Half a head of garlic, cloves peeled and flattened
2 oranges, juice squeezed and pulp reserved
2 limes or lemons, juice squeezed
1 orange, thinly sliced
4 ancho chiles, soaked in boiling water, then sliced into ribbons. Remove stalks, keep seeds.
2 Tbsp Urfa biber
5 stalks thyme 
5 stalks oregano

In a deep roasting dish, season the surface of the slashed pig with salt and pepper and all the sugar. Place broiled tomatoes whole on top of shoulder and squash down. Pour orange and lime juice over this, and add any orange pulp as well as the sliced orange. Tuck onion, garlic, sliced anchos and seeds, and herbs under and around the shoulder. Cover tightly with foil.

Assuming you're eating the pig that night, transfer the roasting dish to 250'F oven. Go out to work, if that's what you do. Worry not.

At about 6pm uncover your pig. Pour the significant amount of cooking liquid into a saucepan and reduce until you have about two cups. You may want to add some lime juice or salt or sugar, or another (soaked) ancho. Make sure there are no stray bones lurking amongst the melting meat. If you have a blender, blend the reduced sauce till smooth and return to heat to keep warm. Meantime place pig in a serving platter. Pour over sauce. Serve in bowls, with sour cream alongside.

Eric said that this is better than the Ginger Ale pig. Mimi looked shocked. Blasphemy.

Precede with guacamole, accompany with margaritas and follow with mangoes.

2 parts Tequila
2 parts fresh lime juice
1 part Cointreau 

Shake like the blazes with plenty of ice. Pour.

Monday, November 29, 2021

How to make hominy

[First published 10 September 2010. Updated 29 November 2021]

What is hominy? Properly prepared, it is nixtamalised (alkali-treated), cooked dry corn (usually dent, but also flint/field corn) whose skins and germ have been removed. Its texture is luscious and its scent is rich and honey-like. 

Hominy is an essential part of pozole, a stew whose Aztec origins may have required as an ingredient chopped-up sacrificial warriors. Now, pork has to suffice. 

And for a vegan version I'd use roasted squash, added very late so it doesn't become too soft.

This hominy-step is Part One of the first pozole I ever made, using the artist Christina Kelly's native Northeastern shortnose white corn, raised in Prospect Park in 2009.

The hunt for kal/pickling lime/lye (calcium hydroxide) - specified in all hominy recipes by cooks who never tell you where they purchased their kal - ended with my decision to try an alternative: baking soda. The chemicals loosen the husks and the hard germs of the dried corn, make more nutrients available, and allow it to 'bloom' as it becomes soft. The traditional lye would be made from wood ash.

Luckily, baking soda works well. Still, it's a commitment, in terms of process.

On with the show. This method is a hybrid of several I found online and in books, and evolved with subsequent practise. It yields tender yet firm hominy, whose flavor is wonderful. Begin two days before you intend cooking the pozole. There are two long soaking periods.

2 cups dry flint corn (yields about five cups, cooked)
8 cups of water
3 Tablespoons baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

First Two Soaks:

In a large pot combine corn and water. Bring to a boil, and add the baking soda. 

At this point white corn turns miraculously yellow.

Keep at a gentle simmer for one hour. Then let the corn stand in the water until cool. By now the kernels will have plumped up and the coverings of the germs (at the narrow tip of each kernel) will be dark. Pour the water off, and fill the pot again with cool water and rinse, stirring with your hands. Rub handfuls of corn against one another to loosen any skins. Pour the water off. 

Cover the corn with water again and let it stand for 12 hours or overnight. Drain.

Now you're going to remove the dark covering that protects each germ. 

With your thumbnail, pinch off this little black sheath at the tip of each kernel. It covers the germ, which is like a tiny backbone in the kernel. 

Third Soak:

When you have removed all these sheaths, soak the corn for another 12 hours, then drain. (You can try and skip this last soak, and wiggle out the germ at the same time as the sheath-removal, but it's much looser and easier to remove once the sheath is off and the corn is re-soaked.)

The germs swell up after that last soak. They feel harder than the rest of the kernel. True hominy does away with this kernel, hence the effort.

Wiggle out the germ. You will now have a groove in the middle of each kernel, where the germ was. 

After this painstaking process, rinse the kernels thoroughly.

Your corn is ready to cook! Fill a pot with water again, add the prepared corn, and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for about forty minutes, until the kernels are just fork-tender.

You have made hominy.

This lovely stuff can be served as a side dish to practically anything, or eaten with maple syrup and milk. Or you know, next step pozole.

Would I do this often?

Hell, no.

But the real deal tastes and feels so much better than the canned versions. It also says something about how and why we cook, and what we bother to feed ourselves, and who lived here before most of us did.