28 June, 2010
What would you have done? I stood up to rescue her (having recently developed quite an allergy to wasps myself) and watched my (only) camera make a gentle, sure arc from my lap into the depths of the pool. (A long ohhh nooo sounding in my head). The wasp swiftly eradicated--no mercy for insects this time--there was the swift dive into the water and the gentle swaddling of my waterlogged camera, followed by the emergency protocol, hair dryer to the rescue. All this to no avail. Camera: Dead On Arrival. Dried streaks of salty water, like frozen ghosts, trapped in the depths of the Leica lens.
Can I continue to blog without a camera? Is the visual so instrinsic that I should simply hang up a scribbled sign "due to technological issues, closed until further notice"?
19 June, 2010
17 June, 2010
Right now, there are three hens (Domino, Blackie and Fluffy), a rooster (with a name so silly I can't bring myself to type it), and three (yet unnamed) no-longer-chicks. I don't yet know whether they are boys or girls. Girls will be able to stay, boys not so much. No chickens we've named will be going in our pot though; I'm not a farmer--I'm not even a country girl by upbringing (plus I'm not hungry enough). In the meantime, boy, do the girls ever make some fine eggs, with orangish-gold yolks.
It may seem superfluous to offer directions for something as basic as dressing, but that's just it: everyone should have a from-scratch favorite. The kind of taste-enhancing sauce you can nearly make with your eyes closed. I almost always go by the 3 to 1 oil to acid ratio, and this is my everyday, go-to dressing. You can use my version to refine or develop your own standard version. Let's see, a modest glass of the house white, a baguette and a small cheese plate on stand-by...and mmm, you're in like Flynn.La Sauce Maison (The House Dressing)
Makes more than enough dressing for 4 meal-size salads.
generous pinch of salt
a bit of fresh-ground pepper
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 scant teaspoon (liquid) honey
2 tablespoons good balsamic or sherry vinegar, or fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil, or walnut oil (or--more hedonistic--bacon fat from the just-cooked lardons, but then add a touch more mustard)
4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
a squeeze of mayonnaise
a few tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs, such as tarragon and chives/chive blossoms; mint, basil, cilantro....
Stir together the salt, pepper, mustard and honey in a jar (one with a tight-fitting lid). An old jam jar is good. Add the vinegar to the mustard and honey paste, and stir to dissolve the salt (the salt won't dissolve if you add it after the oil--not the end of the world but it does add incrementally to the final effect). Pour in the oils, any fresh chopped herbs, and seal and shake as if your entire well-being depended upon a decent emulsion. Taste and adjust with a bit more mustard and pepper as necessary. Wait until the last possible moment to add the sauce to the lettuce. Do make sure the washed greens are bone-dry before dressing (after the salad spinner, I roll the lettuce up in a clean kitchen towel to absorb the last microdroplets).
15 June, 2010
Since the creamy part of this very easy recipe is positively sublime just as it is, I haven't altered a thing, not ever. It remains fully Mr. O'Connell's version of the French classic. Having said this, I don't own any heart-shaped, perforated porcelain dishes, which the recipe traditionally calls for. I simply place a piece of cheesecloth in one of my smaller sieves. The love is there, even if the heart-shape isn't.
My plan is to make this with the kids for Father's Day. We're celebrating later, because the parent in question is currently AWOL, but once he's back we'll present this (with a flourish and a flurry of hugs). And I'll take a photo, to share with you. To begin with, here's the cream and mascarpone mixture just getting ready to overnight in the refrigerator.
Coeur à la crème avec son coulis de framboises (Coeur à la Crème with Raspberries)
by Patrick O'Connell, Chef and Proprietor
The Inn at Little Washington
"Coeur à la Crème is an old French concoction that is both earthy and elegant, rustic and dressy — appropriate for any occasion. It's a wonderful complement to whatever summer berries are in season. This dessert is served at The Inn to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. It can be made in less than five minutes and never fails to knock em' out — even more so than an elaborate cake that took two days to execute.
One large (16-ounce) or four individual (4-ounce) perforated heart-shaped ceramic molds lined with cheesecloth will be needed to create this dessert. The perforated molds allow the excess liquid, or whey, to drip through the cheesecloth, leaving the delicious "heart" of the cream. Coeur à la crème molds are usually available at kitchen supply stores."
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Chambord or other raspberry liqueur, such as creme de framboise
1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
For raspberry sauce
1 pint fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons "superfine" granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Cut a piece of cheesecloth into four 6-inch squares. Dampen and wring out lightly. Press one square into each of four perforated heart-shaped ceramic molds and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the mascarpone cheese, 1/4 cup of the cream, the vanilla, the 1 tablespoon lemon juice and the Chambord until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate.
In a small bowl, whip the remaining 1 cup cream and the confectioners' sugar until the cream forms stiff peaks. With a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the chilled cheese mixture in three batches. Spoon the finished mixture into the prepared molds and fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the tops. Lightly tap at the bottoms of the molds on the counter to remove and air spaces between the mixture and the molds. Refrigerate on a tray or baking sheet a minimum of 3 hours (or overnight).
Meanwhile, make raspberry sauce:
In a blender or food processor, purée the raspberries, granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Taste the sauce for sweetness and adjust the sugar or lemon juice as needed. Strain and refrigerate.
Assemble and serve:
Unfold the cheesecloth and drape it over the sides of the molds. Invert each mold onto a serving plate. While pressing down on the corners of the cheesecloth carefully lift off the mold. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon and remove the cheesecloth slowly. Spoon raspberry sauce onto the plate around the heart and garnish with fresh berries and mint leaves.
11 June, 2010
What are you going to do, dear reader? What do you think BP should do? Should the US government require BP to withhold payment to its shareholders until this mess has been cleaned and paid for?
PS: Since I wrote this last week, the estimate of oil leaked per day has doubled.
10 June, 2010
Coming into their own just as the local asparagus become harder to find are the strawberries. (I know, this year, everything's delayed by a couple of weeks). If you live in France--or even if you're simply visiting--do keep these three names in mind: Mara des bois, Charlotte and Gariguette. Whether you buy the plant or the fruit, they are your one-way ticket to strawberry nirvana. All three are coveted for their particularly rich berry scent and are exceedingly sweet. In a market, they're the priciest, even though their fruit are quite small when compared to the jumbo industrial, scentless types.
I also made some sorbet, which I should really take a picture of before it's all devoured: the colour is fairly spectacular. Again, I felt my way through the process, adding a lemon-mint syrup I'd made, the blackberry liqueur, some fresh lime juice, and so on. I find that true strawberry taste is beautifully amplified once additional acidity (whether from lemon, lime or good balsamic vinegar) and some delicate complementary flavors are added to the mix. [Insert allusion to back-up singers making the song here...]
Finally, I've also made some strawberry syrup, in anticipation of tea cakes (as in drizzling over) and perspiring glasses of lemonade just sitting around positively yearning for a ruby drop or two to give them that rosy summer glow. I think of lemonade because of course my lavender's begun blooming now, which means a whole host of other culinary possibilities beyond lavender-scented lemonade...In the meantime, check out this quartet of baby wagtails (you can just see some of the distinctive yellow coming in on the tail and side of the chick on the left). Their mother decided make her nest behind a pot of mauve and cream ganzia. I had to switch pots while she was gone from the nest, as otherwise I would have been showering her and her brood rather regularly. They look goofy and awkward now, but they'll soon be ready to fly. I hope to catch the fun of those first flights...in between my own assorted flights of fancy in the kitchen and garden.
Update: I saw the little ones for the last time last week. They had lost all fuzz, and were preternaturally fresh, bright mini-versions of their parents, with sulfur-yellow feathers. I made a mental note to take their picture. By the next day, they'd gone.
04 June, 2010
And tell me: do you like it as much as we do?
Mangetouts à la minute (Snowpeas with Toasted Almonds)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sliced almonds
250 g snow peas, trimmed and "de-stringed"
4 shallots, minced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and cook until golden and fragrant and butter begins to brown, stirring frequently, about one and a half minutes. Add snow peas and shallot; sauté until snow peas are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes (taste as you go!). Remove skillet from heat; add lemon juice. Season to taste with salt, toss and serve.
03 June, 2010
A bag of cherries doesn't go that far if every seat at the dinner table's taken, so I decided to stretch the pleasure by baking them into a dessert. Clafoutis, which I've written about before, is a French classic from the Limousin region (the name is Occitan in origin). It has been around since at least the nineteenth century. While it resembles a cake, in texture it's closer kin to baked custard. The pits are not removed from the cherries, and give a deeper almond taste to the dish, which I sometimes enhance with a tablespoon of ground almonds. This is on my short list of the Easiest Desserts Around, and yet it also gets such rave reviews. Try it, and you'll see what I mean.
Clafoutis aux cerises (Traditional Cherry Clafoutis)
Serves four to six, depending on how many cherry lovers are present.
500 g ripe dark cherries (about four cups)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or half flour, half ground almond blend)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup whole milk (or half milk, half cream blend)
3 teaspoons kirsch (or two teaspoons vanilla)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 200C. In a blender, combine the sugar, flour, eggs, the milk, kirsch, and salt until the mixture is smooth. Arrange the cleaned cherries in a single layer in a buttered baking dish (they should fit somewhat snugly). Pour the mixture over and bake the clafouti for some 20 minutes, or until the top is puffed, golden and springy to the touch. Once removed from the oven, the dessert will deflate a bit; this is perfectly normal. Best enjoyed while still warm.
01 June, 2010
Serves 10-12 people.
3 1/2 cups flour (not whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
grated and finely minced zest of four lemons
1 cup crème fraîche, or mascarpone
Optional lemon glaze
2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1 cup confectioner's sugar
Preheat oven 180C. Thoroughly grease and flour a tube pan, or two loaf pans. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another large bowl, beat softened butter until fluffy. Adding sugar gradually, continue to beat until light and fluffy, scraping sides of bowl regularly. Add lemon zest and juice. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add dry ingredients a cup at a time, just until blended. Add crème fraîche, folding until thoroughly blended. Pour the thick batter into the greased and floured pan(s). Bake for about 45 to an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Keep an eye on the color of the cake as it bakes: it shouldn't get too dark.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack, and let cool completely. (I have to write that, but I've never actually been able to keep people from "testing" it while it's still warm.)
If you want to amplify the relatively mild lemon taste, add the tangy lemon glaze. Mix confectioners' sugar with fresh lemon juice until smooth, and drizzle over the completely cooled cake and let the glaze harden.