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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Clam Chowder

I did not grow up with or on chowder but I love it. The best clam chowder I have tasted is at Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street in the West Village - and I used that as my taste-reference to make my own chowder for the first time. I used fresh clams. It seemed the right thing to do. And we are lucky enough to have access to the fresh shellfish as well as to fishmongers who are willing to shuck them, carefully saving all their juice. (See alternative method below.)

The result is wonderful. Creamy, but not cloying, very briny, with a hint of carroty sweetness rising through the smoky bacon. No doubt I commited various heresies along the way but here it is. I would also serve creamy hot milk on the side in case it is too salty for some...

For Four, one bowl each. No seconds. Or you know, two pigs. 

2 Tbsps butter
1/4 cup carrot, mire poix-style (tiny cubes)
1/4 cup onion, ditto
2 rashers bacon - the best* you can get your hands on - cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Tbsp flour plus 1 tsp
1 1/4 cups shucked clams (about 24 steamer clams, approx. 3lbs, in shell)
Clam juices reserved (about 1.5 cups)
1 1/2 cups milk, plus extra
1/4 cup cream
1 large potato - about 1 cup, peeled and cut into small cubes (1/4")
Half a lemon

Melt the butter and cook the carrots and onion till they caramelize a little, about 8 gentle minutes. Add the pieces of bacon. Cook until the fat runs. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the bacon and vegetables and stir well with wooden spoon. Allow to cook gently for a minute or two. This is the beginning of a quick roux.

[*See below for alternative method] Now add the clam juice, stirring furiously to prevent any sticking. Add the milk. Stir. Once the liquid reaches a boil (stir all the time), lower heat to a simmer. Add the cubed potato. Cook until just tender, about 6-8 minutes. Taste. Add the cream. The clam juices can very, very salty and if the soup is too salty, add a little more milk.  Bring back to a simmer and add the clams. The instant they cook and become firm, in under a minute, be ready serve the chowder, in warmed bowls. But taste one last time, and add a conservative squeeze of lemon juice.

I served this with still-warm crusty wholegrain bread from Sahadi, and a salad of roof greens that had a peppery kick.

No reason this would not work with mussels, but they'd have to be added after a gentle steaming to open them; and add the liquid they exude in the steaming pot (after straining it for grit). Maybe I'll try that in Cape Town after some mussel-scrounging on the rocks.

*An alternative method:

Instead of using raw clams, steam them open and remove the clam meat as soon as each shell pops. In which case:

24 steamer clams
1/2 cup white wine or dry white vermouth
1/2 cup water

Scrub the clams very well, or you will make sand soup.

Bring the wine and water to a boil in large pot with lid. Add clams and steam till they open - remove each one as it opens, or they will overcook and become tough. Collect the clam juices to use in the recipe as above, by straining though a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth (in case of sand). Proceed with the recipe above - adding thee clam juices after you have made the roux, Add the cooked clams at the last minute, and allow to heat through before serving.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Roast pecans

A perfect holiday and party snack. Salty, crispy, addictive. A good gift, too.

My Aunt Yvonne used to make these. At her beautiful old house in Paarl, there is (was?) a pecan tree. And she would shell the nuts herself, and then roast them. I think her recipe is a little different - my cousin Kate says she uses butter.

This sounds too simple to be good, I know. Trust me.

1lb fresh pecans
4 tablespoons soy
2 tablespoons sugar

Heat the oven to 350'F/180'C

Combine nuts, soy and sugar in a  bowl. Toss the nuts to coat them as thoroughly as possible. Spread in a single layer on an oiled cookie tray (or two, if one is not big enough to hold them). Place the tray in the oven and roast them for 15-25 minutes. After 10 minutes check on them every five minutes, shaking the pan every time to turn them.

Once they are browned and the sugar and soy have caramelized, remove from the oven and let them cool. Shake the cooling pan/s every now and then, or pry the nuts loose with a spatula to stop them from sticking.

The magic: as they cool, they turn crunchy inside a wildly delicious thin caramel shell.

When completely cool, store them in glass jars. Or set them out with drinks and snacks.

They disappear very, very fast.

Friday, October 16, 2015

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 (only the English...)'s House and Garden Cooking with Style arrived in our house and I saw the light.

If you are like me, this will arrive and 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 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.

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.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Meatballs with pine nuts and currants

I like the food at Frankie's 457 very much. The unnecessary noise, I hate. It makes conversation impossible. For me, sitting down to eat is as much about the company's conversation as the food. And at Frankie's you can only shout.

There are recipes for Frankie's meatballs all over the web, and this is very much based on their published version, with a few tweaks. I use less bread, parmesan rather than pecorino, currants rather than raisins, fewer eggs, and I roast the meatballs at high heat (450'F), rather  than very low (325'). High heat gives them a nice crust.

Meatballs (for two, and then some)

1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 lb organic ground beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
2 garlic cloves,finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup Spanish pine nuts
1/4 cup currants
1 large egg

Soak the breadcrumbs in milk, then squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can. Put the soggy crumbs in a bowl, and add the ground beef. Season with black pepper and the salt. Mix the crumbs and meat together thoroughly, using a fork. Add the garlic, parsley, cheese, nuts and currants. Mix again.

Heat the oven to 450'F/220'C.

Now roll the mixture into golf-sized balls. Golf-the-sport makes me fall asleep. It helps to have a bowl of water handy while you are rolling - keep wetting your palms with a little: it prevents sticking.

Place the meatballs on an oiled baking sheet and slide into the oven. Take the tray out after 10 minutes and flip each meatball. Slide back in.

While they are roasting I make a quick tomato sauce:

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 can of good tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
Salt (maybe)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the garlic till translucent. Do not allow to brown. Add the tomatoes, crushing them in the pan till they are in pieces. Or chop first!

Add the sugar. Stir. Cook over medium-high heat for 20 minutes, bubbling. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary, as well as pepper.  If you have the time, allow to cool for 10 minutes then puree till smooth. Return to pan and keep warm. Otherwise serve it rough and ready...

(If you want to be funny you can add two strips of orange zest to the tomato sauce while it cooks - it's really good, and an idea from the late, lamented Inoteca on Rivington Street.)

Add the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and cook at a low simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve nestled in sauce and topped with some more passing thunder showers of cheese.

Here's the Frankie's cookbook, if you'd like more of the food, and none of the noise.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thai chicken curry

This is my favourite chicken curry recipe, a staple over many years.

Curry comes from the Tamil word kari, and means sauce. So curry can be almost anything. 

This one was born from the memory of a wonderful curry made at The Elephant, a Thai-French hybrid owned by a Frenchman on East 1st Street in the East Village. I used to eat lunch there sometimes, when I worked around the corner, at my garden designing desk. Lunch was a fraction of the dinner prices, although the menu was exactly the same. This curry was rich, and deep, a little salty and a little sweet, and also a little sour. It was perfect.

It took me a while, but as far as my taste buds are concerned, this is it.

The Elephant closed a few years ago, so I can't go back to compare.

Part of the curry's charm lay in its presentation - a deep china bowl of amber sauce with islands of chicken, carrot and potato breaking the surface, sprinkled with shredded mint. And beside it, a dinner plate with a dome of jasmine rice, a tiny banana, one side of it neatly cubed, the other lying lengthwise beside the cubes, small pieces of mango, a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and half a lime, sliced not across, but from top to bottom, off center, no mean wedge but a generous, squeezable handful. I usually ate the curry from the bowl, adding lime and mango and banana and rice as I went.

For Two

1 Tbsp coconut oil or other oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 finger of ginger, peeled, and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp shrimp paste (or 2 salted anchovies - not the same, but not bad)
1 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
1 Tbsp tamarind paste (subst. 2 Tbsp lime juice plus 1tsp sugar)
2 chicken thighs and 2 drumsticks
1 lemon grass base, sliced in half
3 Tbsp fish sauce
1 can coconut milk, without any additives, if possible
2 medium potatoes, in quarters, or 4 small, whole potatoes
1 large carrot, peeled, cut in large chunks
3 cups of water
1 Tbsp red chile flakes (this is not proper), or two hot dried Thai chiles
3 fresh makrut lime or lemon leaves or 1 dried Persian lime (heresy, but it has the same effect, really)
3 sprigs Thai basil
Fresh mint or cilantro or both
1 lime, cut into wedges
3 Tbsp roasted peanuts
1 ripe banana

Saute the garlic, ginger and onion over medium heat till the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato paste, shrimp paste, sugar and tamarind. Stir to caramelize the tomato a little, and add the chicken pieces, allowing them to take a little colour, about 4 minutes

After a couple of minutes, add the fish sauce. Things will get smelly. Now add the coconut milk and stir very well to scrape up the sticky bits on the bottom. Add the vegetables, top with water until just covered, and stir again. Add the chile and lime/lemon leaves.

Cook at a simmer until the chicken is about to fall apart, about 1. 5 hours. Taste. You are aiming for slightly sweet, a little tart, hot, rich. You can add some more fish sauce or some lime juice if you like. Just before serving add the fresh basil and stir in.

Serve with steamed or sticky rice, with a side of chopped banana, a sprinkle of chopped roasted peanuts and fresh mint or cilantro. More lime is good, squeezed over just before eating.

This goes well with cold, cold, c-c-c-c-cold beer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Black Currant Chutney

Black currant gin after two months

...and the story of how it was born.

I developed this chutney recipe after straining a large batch of black currants from their gin bath two years ago. I  could not bear to waste the gin-soaked fruit. While pies, cakes and jam are good alternatives, chutney is a more savory and complex way to preserve flavor, and also to eke out an ingredient whose season is fleeting.

Currant season in July

That was a crazy early September: my book was launching, I had menus to prepare and cook for the parties, and we had to move from Brooklyn. I have almost total amnesia regarding the details of the move, as a result.

Ingredients for a book party, ferried by Sarah Owens

I served this chutney with pork belly rillettes at the Book Court launch party, along with lambs quarter and amaranth-stuffed phyllo pastry and Sarah Owens' BK17 bread (her sourdough book is available for pre-order, now).

Rhus Hour cocktail

The place was packed, the food was wolfed, the foraged cocktails - sumac vodka and prosecco - were sucked dry. That is a very happy memory, and quite intact.

Party, waiting for packing

So, to the chutney - since this year's currants are freshly bottled in gin. Step one is covering the clean fruit in gin (or vodka), of course. It's not quantum physics: Pack your chosen jar with fruit, top with the liquor. Simple.

I leave this mixture to infuse for up to two months.

For the Chutney:

10 cups gin-soaked black currants
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins or dried 'black currants'( just to confuse you; they are very small raisins)
5 slices peeled ginger (slice lengthwise, about 3")
3 slices peeled fresh galangal (omit if you can't find it)
8 allspice berries
1 Tablespoon dried chile flakes
2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup water

Variations: 5 bay or 10 bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) leaves, 6 spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries

(There is no reason you can't make a black currant chutney by skipping the gin-infusion. Use fresh fruit, and add 8 juniper berries to the spice mix.)

Combine all the ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Heat the mixture gradually over medium heat, stirring often to prevent any sticking and scorching. When foam rises, skim it. Cook at a gentle simmer until the currants and raisins are tender and the mixture resembles jam - about 20-25 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, sterilize glass jars in a 200'F oven (10 minutes) or in a boiling water bath.

Allow the chutney to cool a little before pouring into the glass jars.

When it has cooled, store it in the fridge.

It is excellent served with pork, especially ham and rich cuts like pork belly, as well as with game, curried lamb, pâtés and cheeses.

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