The black locusts enchanting blossoms are melting away in the rain as I write. As everything else this year, they were 10 days to 2 weeks earlier than usual – I generally count on the 2nd week of May to be peak time for the pearly bunches of fragrant flowers. My nose noticed the first ones on April 28, this year, as I was walking out of the Flint Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue Hall where I was cooking for a wedding. But unlike many other years, this year was a good season, with showy, abundant and long lasting blossoms – well over 10 days. Despite almost 6 inches of rain last week, they kept blooming. But all things end, and now they are just drooping, brown and limp, rain water pulling them down closer to the ground… Read more
Archive for Desserts
I am firmly in the beet lover camp: a well grown garden beetroot tastes of clean sweet earth. And that’s a good taste, intense, earthy, crunchy when raw, silky when cooked, deep garnet. But I know that the beet is as fervently disliked as it is loved. As much for taste as for its uncanny ability to color everything sanguine.
But that perceived flaw is also a strength. One can turn beets into a natural food coloring. Years ago, I made preserved cherries from a Greek recipe that called for dropping a chunk of beet-root in the jar of preserve to enhance its color. The cherries tastes faintly of beet – fine with me since I like beets.
Then, a few days ago, at breakfast, leaving through an older issue of Saveur magazine, I stopped turning the page at the gorgeous photo of icing in the most lovely shades of pink. Colored by beet powder! According to the article, beetroot powder has some earthy sweetness but does not have a strong taste. I was intrigued.
I made beet root powder. Because right now we have beets. The recipe for DIY beetroot powder is here. A mandoline is helpful to slice the beet paper-thin. After drying the beet slices in my yard-sale food dehydrator (they looked like rose petals!), I pulverized the dehydrated slices in my Vitamix. Worked like a charm!
Then I wanted to make icing. And use it. Read more
So far, it’s been a good year for berries! A cold winter and abundant spring rains have given the plants what they want. You will not hear me complain about the past winter nor about the rains (yet, at least…)
I am actually harvesting red raspberries… thanks to a bout of happy garden laziness. The raspberry canes that fruited last year should have been cut down at the end of the winter. For a number of reasons – none of them very good – I never cleaned the patch. And what’s the result? Raspberries in June! Not something to do every year as the patch would rapidly becoming an awful mess, but every 2 years, or every year on half the patch alternating which half is cut in March. Remains to be seen, however, if the fall harvest is as abundant as before. Still raspberries in June is pretty nice.
I have written before before about my fondness for red currants. I simply adore their brilliant tartness, when mixed with other berries, or by themselves with a light sprinkle of sugar, or in the easiest jelly in the world, one I make every year.
This year, I am also harvesting black currants. When I planted them, I had cassis on my mind, the syrupy dark purple liquor from Burgundy that’s also made in the Ile d’Orlean, in Quebec. I somehow imagines that the berries have the same flavors. Not so. Certainly not raw.
Black currants needs to be cooked for that haunting flavor. Otherwise it’s just another tart berry, and one not particularly remarkable at that. Pleasant but nothing special. Cook it however, and you’ve got something really special. Read more
Blackberries are producing madly. They have been loving this more temperature summer. Me too! And so they have rewarded us with beaucoup berries since mid-July. For a few weeks in fact they were producing along the Saturn flat peach. ahhh…
Loads just got bagged and tossed in the freezer. Lots got turned into jam, some mixed with blueberries. New to me this year was blackberry gastrique, an awful name if there ever was one: just hearing it makes me want to reach for the bottle of crème de menthe. But it is a homemade competitor to flavored balsamic vinegar — a syrupy blackberry vinegar akin to shrub that I like to drizzle on hard cheese, add to sparkling water, use for vinaigrette, baste ribs or chicken on the grill. I had heard of gastrique before but dismissed it , unjustly based on its name. I came across this video from Sherri Brooks Vinton and realized it was akin to shrub. I made it and I am hooked. I have since made Peach ginger gastrique and there is a tomato one in the works.
And then I have been having fun with sherbet using honey from our hives. This version came by accident: I wanted to make sherbet with buttermilk (something similar to this blueberry sherbet) but there was none in the fridge. There was however sour cream, so that is what I used. Instead of my usual vodka (used to prevent the sherbet from becoming too icy) I splashed in some crème de cassis. Wow! I was really pleased with the depth of flavors and the mouthful – it is, in fact, one of my favorite sherbet. Don’t sweat the proportions too much: let your taste buds guide you. I was reakky measuring when I was making it.
So without more ado, 2 recipes: Blackberry Gastrique and Blackberry Honey Sherbet. Read more
Blanc-manger, panna cotta or molded cream, the idea is similar: gelatin is added to milk and/or cream infused with herbs, spices or nuts. The end result? A simple dessert perfect for a picnic (if made and left in small Mason jars and kept cool in a cooler) or — when nicely dressed — ready for a dinner party. How to dress it up? Vary the flavoring (change the herb; add rosewater etc), garnish with coulis and fresh seasonal fruit: perfectly ripe berries, barely sweetened sour cherries, rhubarb compote or, when in winter a cooked fruit sauce made with frozen berries. Top it with a mint sprig or an edible flower. Substitute yogurt for the crème fraiche for a tangier and lighter alternative. If you can’t have dairy milk, use almond milk or coconut milk (omit the almond meal in either case). Once the basic technique is understood, there is no end to the fun!
You need to plan a little for that dessert: it needs to be made it the day before as it needs plenty of time to chill and set.
Honey & Creme Fraiche Pannacotta Read more
Those who have read my blog for a while know of the fondness I have for quince – that almost forgotten fruit. Most of the cultivars grown in our area (and they aren’t that many, although they do exist) need to be cooked to bring out their surprisingly floral aroma.That’s probably why it has fallen out of favor: you can’t just bite into it. I have read though that there are cultivars tasty enough for that. But the quince we get here, you have to cook. And how well you will be rewarded.
It is lovely mixed with apples. But if you cannot find quince, use a good home-made or store- bought apple sauce, preferably unsweetened. Virginia allspice (also called spicebush) is a native understory shrub (Lindera benzoin) whose berries ripen to vermillion in late summer and early fall and taste very similar to the true tropical allspice, with a more peppery bite. I collect the berries in the fall and freeze them until needed. Omit them or use allspice if you do not have access to them.
Yes, the tart shell takes some planning. But the crust won’t be soggy!
I prefer to mix apples for a variety of texture and taste, and prefer to avoid apples that remain really firm when cooked.
Prior entries on quince:
A recipe initially published in the October 2012 issue of Food-Shed Magazine.
Pears start to ripen in my area in August (apples in July), but I really don’t start to pay attention to them until after the stone fruit of summer are gone.
Almond and pears in custard – that’s a most classic flavor combination. Add ginger for a little twist, actually a double twist with the double layer of ginger flavor: the pears are poached with fresh ginger and then candied ginger is added to the custard.
Make sure your pears are perfectly ripe: overripe pears are mealy, underripe pears bland and sometime astringent. Pears are generally sold underripe (most European pears ripen off the tree): keep them at room temperature to ripen them. They are ready to eat or cook when the area immediately around the stem yields slightly under the pressure from your fingers. If the whole pear is soft, it’s likely too gone, with the inside rotten. Once ripe, refrigerate and eat within a couple of days.
A tart pan with a removable bottom unmolds easily. And yes, it makes all the difference in the world, to bake the shell blind and let it cool thoroughly before adding the filling. An
Gingery Custard Pear Tart
Yields a 9″ Round or Square Tart, Serving 8-10 Read more
Our small flock of hens are laying well – it’s not unusual to pick-up 6 eggs or more a day, meaning 3 1/2 dozen a week! Eggs make a nice hostess gift for hen-less friends, and although we like 2 eggs for breakfast once in while, and omelettes are ones of the most versatile and nutritious fast foods I know, that’s a lot of eggs for the 2 of us.
So, at the moment, egg-based dishes are what I bring to pot-luck dinners – a double bonus as both deviled eggs and creme caramel (which takes twice as many eggs as a regular baked custard) are very popular.
So is chocolate mousse. Read more
This recipe first appeared in the Virginia Wine Gazette.
Peppers (aka chiles) and chocolate are products of the Americas – unknown in Europe until the Spanish conquistadors brought them home in the 16th century. Can you imagine Belgium or Switzerland without chocolate? Calabrian or Greek cuisines without hot peppers?
Cocoa was an expensive beverage – and an acquired taste, too, since it was served without sugar or milk, both unknown in Mesoamerica, but with hot chilies and vanilla, both Mesoamerican native spices. Expensive, bitter and spicy, it’s no wonder cocoa was considered a medication.
Yet, once the Europeans added sugar and milk, hot cocoa, as we know it today, took off. Starting in the 18th century, various processes were developed to form chocolate bars and candies. The modern eating chocolate bar was born in the mid-19th century.
As other tropical areas of the world started to grow the cocoa tree for its seeds, the cocoa bean, which is dried and fermented, chocolate’s popularity was sealed.
Chiles and cocoa work great together indeed: a number of chocolatiers are teasing our taste buds by adding the spice to their gorgeous chocolate confections. You can do it at home too! Add unsweetened cocoa to your favorite chili recipe. Throw a pinch of hot ground chile in chocolate desserts.
I make no claim for their health benefits nor for their possible aphrodisiac qualities, but I can assure you that chocolate and chiles, alone or together, are wonderful winter fare – in fact wonderful fare any time of the year.
Below is a variation of what I called 3-2-1 custard: the Spicy Chocolate Custard. 3 eggs/2 cups milk/ 1 cup chocolate chips: those are easy proportions to remember, negating the need for printed recipe if you need to whip a dessert quickly. You may tweak the spices and flavoring endlessly for subtle differences. Read more
We make Meyer Lemon curd. Lots of it.
It takes less than 30 minutes to make a quart of it, and since it freezes beautifully, you may as well make a few quarts… provided you have eggs and lemons. And we do.