Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Potato Leek Soup

Last night, while dinner was burgling on the stove, Y. and I realized that almost all of it had come from his garden. The chicken was his; the parsley, beans, garlic, lettuce, and tomatoes were his. So were the leeks and potatoes. The cream came from down the road and the apples, onion, and shallot were local too. The only things that were not local were the wine, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. We decided, once again, that we were very lucky people.
This soup has to be one of the easiest things to put together. You think it's going to be bland: veg boiled in salted water, mashed up, and reheated. But when you start with good veg and add a dollop of crème fraîche, you really can't go wrong. The sweetness of the apples and onions plays nicely against the tartness of the crème fraîche and they both go very well with the velvety potato-leek purée.

Potato Leek Soup with Crème Fraîche and Caramelized Onions and Apples

adapted from Julia's Potage Parmentier

  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 pound leeks, thinly sliced
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 6 Tbs. crème fraîche
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 apple
  • Bring leeks, potatoes, water, and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes, until vegetables are very tender. Purée in batches, transfer to the pot in which you will reheat soup, and set aside.
  • Cut your onion in such a way that you are left with long pieces. Cut your apple in half and remove the core with a melon baller. Cut apple into slabs from the top to the bottom, then cut the slabs into small wedges. Heat a couple tablespoons of butter in a small, heavy skillet. Add the onions and apples and stir so everything is coated in butter. Spread the apples and onions so they form a single layer in the pan and reduce heat to low. Let them do their thing for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. Flip the apples so both sides caramelize. If things start to look dry, group onions and apples in the middle of the pan. Once onions and apples are beautifully browned and caramelized transfer to a small dish and set aside.
  • To serve: reheat soup. Ladle into bowls. Top each serving with a tablespoon each of crème fraîche and caramelized apples and onion. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped parsley.
You can, of course, make this soup even if you don't have a wonderful boyfriend who showers you with fresh produce, but it certainly helps.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Apple Chutney

You might not think it, but there is a considerable amount of responsibility associated with a fall fruit share. Every week I am gifted with apples and it is my responsibility not to let them shrivel in the fridge. The first week I didn't make anything with them, just ate them out of the bag and I think there is still one Sansa left. The next week I made a tarte Tatin with the Ginger Golds. Last week we got Galas. The note from the farm said that the Gala is good for just about anything--it keeps well, it is a good eater, and a good cooking apple. I briefly considered making applesauce, and I'm sure I will before the season ends, but the Galas became chutney.
This is supposed to be quite a spicy chutney. Mine came out on the milder side because, unfortunately, I couldn't find any small, red chiles and used jalapeños instead. In an attempt to give it a bit more heat I added most of a teaspoon of dried, crushed red pepper. I worked with what I had, and it turned out just fine. Although the recipe didn't call for it, I added several small handfuls of currants to my chutney. Just, because, well, yum.
I am used to a thick, almost jam-like chutney, but am learning to appreciate its runnier cousin. A more pourable chutney is great with pocket-y foods, like pasties or samosas. Instead of the chutney lasting only one bite, the juices seep in to the filling and meld with the other flavors, and you do still have the chunks of fruit for texture.

Apple Chutney

adapted from Jan Berry's Art of Preserving

  • 2 pounds cooking apples
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 small, red chiles
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. ginger, chopped
  • 3 cups cider vinegar
  • Peel, core, and chop apples. Finely chop onions and chiles. Place in a nonreactive pan along with the rest of the ingredients and bring the lot to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook 30-40 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and ladle into warm, sterilized jars. Seal jars by boiling for 25 minutes in water that covers them by at least an inch. Cool on racks and hear the lids pop.
Chutney turned out to be the right choice. Y. and I are making an Indian feast for some friends on the weekend and applesauce just wouldn't have gone nearly as well.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Honey Cake

I'm sure I must've eaten honey cake before. One doesn't attend Jewish schools for four years, make yarmulkes for the boys every Friday, sing songs about apples dipped in honey, dress up as Queen Esther (a character from another buba meis) without, at least once, eating honey cake. But I don't remember so, although I thought this sweet, moist, spiced confection was something worth eating and making again, I had nothing to compare it to. Y., on the other hand, has eaten his fair share of honey cake, so I couldn't help but take his request for a second piece as a compliment.
And it is a good cake. It's moist without being oily; sweet without being saccharine; substantial without being dense; spiced without being cloying. The crushed toasted, sliced almonds give it a nice bit of texture and a good excuse to decorate it with more of the same.

Honey Cake

adapted from Carole Walter's Great Cakes

  • 1 Tbs. instant coffee
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tbs. Grand Marnier or the like
  • 1 Tbs. dark molasses
  • 2 cups sifted pastry flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • zest of one orange
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds, plus a few more for decorating.
  • Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously butter an 8-inch ring pan or Bundt pan or a couple of loaf pans or cake tins, dust with flour and set aside.
  • Dissolve coffee in the boiling water and set aside. In another bowl combine honey, Grand Marnier, and molasses. Add coffee to mixture, stir well, and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and spices. Give mixture a whisk or two to get everything evenly distributed. Make a well in the center and add the yolks, oil, zest, and honey mixture. Whisk until very smooth.
  • By any means that work for you (e.g. in a stand mixer or in a bowl with a whisk or egg beater or electric beater), beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and continue to beat until whites hold firm, moist peaks. Gently and briefly fold 1/4 of the whites into the batter. Sprinkle toasted, sliced almonds over the batter, crushing them with your hands as you do so. Add remaining egg whites and fold into batter (Carole suggests about 40 turns).
  • Pour batter, which will be very runny and cause you to wonder if you read the quantities right and make you fret that it will never form something even vaguely resembling a cake, into prepared pan(s). Bake 45-55 minutes, or until cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester comes out clean.
  • Remove from oven and allow cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Turn cake out onto a rack and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with extra toasted, sliced almonds. Best if made the day before you plan to serve it.
I was surprised by how runny the batter was. I thought maybe I'd misread the recipe or done an exceptionally lousy job measuring out the flour and had little confidence that 50 minutes in the oven could possibly turn it into cake. But it did, and a tasty one at that, so let my panic be your panic and save yourself to fret about something else. Like whether or not the cake is going to stick in the ridges of your Bundt pan.
Oh, and happy new year.

Monday, September 14, 2009


My love of the samosa goes back to my childhood. I'm sure I had them before this, but there was this place in Ballito up some cement stairs, next to the parking garage through which was the laundromat, which always reminded me of the soundtrack to Phantom (my, how one's geography becomes dreamlike twenty years after the fact), which sold the most delicious Indian food including samosas and bunny chow, a curry affair served in a hollowed out half-loaf of government bread, the bread innards left from the hollowing out process on the side. But the samosas. Mmm, the samosas.
I hadn't made samosas myself in five years and I thought it was about time. I had to make something for a potluck and I used this week's apples in a tarte Tatin when I had friends over for dinner on Saturday, so the apple pie I had planned to take was no longer an option. Besides, I always takes sweets and wanted to take something savory for a change. Somehow samosas popped to mind, and I wasn't one to argue. Samosas; yum. But lots of work so allow yourself several hours and be on your best kitchen behavior, getting everything in order before you start. It will save you time, frustration, and burned pans.


adapted from the one, the only Madhur Jaffrey

  • 225 g flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 4 Tbs. water
  • break
  • 725 g potatoes, boiled in their jackets and allowed to cool
  • 4 Tbs. oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 175 g peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1 Tbs. ginger, finely grated
  • 1 fresh, hot green chili, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbs. cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbs. water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp.garam masala
  • 1 tsp. ground, roasted cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • oil for deep frying
  • For the dough: Sift together flour and salt. Add 4 Tbs. vegetable oil and rub it in to the flour with your fingers until mixture resemble coarse bread crumbs. Add the 4 Tbs. water a little at a time, adding a little more if necessary. Form the dough into a stiff ball. Knead on a clean, unfloured work surface for about 10 minutes or until dough is smooth. Form dough into a ball, rub with a bit of oil and place it in a plastic bag. Set aside for at least half an hour.
  • While the dough is resting make the filling: Before you even consider turning the fire on under the pan, get your ingredients together. Start by putting the potatoes on to boil. While the potatoes are boiling grind your garam masala. There are endless possibilities with garam masala, but the one Madhur suggests on page 21 of Indian Cooking is this: 1 Tbs. cardamom seeds; one 2-inch cinnamon stick; 1 tsp. black (or regular) cumin seeds; 1 tsp. cloves; 1 tsp. black peppercorns; 1/4 of an average-sized nutmeg. Place all ingredients in an electric coffee grinder (or spice grinder or whathaveyou) and grind for 30-40 seconds or until spices are finely ground. This makes more than you'll need for the recipe, so keep the remainder in an airtight container away from heat and sunlight for the next time or another recipe.
  • As long as you're getting your spices ready, you may as well roast your cumin seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until they turn a few shades darker and emit a nice roasted aroma and grind them, cleaning your grinder before you do this. Or, if you're really thinking, doing the cumin seeds before the garam masala, because I don't think it would mind.
  • On a small saucer measure out the salt, ground coriander, garam masala, ground, roasted cumin seeds, and cayenne. Set aside. On another saucer have ready the finely grated ginger, and finely chopped chili and cilantro. Measure out water and set aside. Measure lemon juice into another vessel and set aside.
  • Once the the potatoes are cool, peel and cut them into a 1/4-inch dice and set aside. Have the peas ready to go in their own bowl. Finely chop onion.
  • Heat 4 Tbs. oil in a large pan over medium heat. Saute onions until they start to brown at the edges. Add peas, ginger, green chili, cilantro, and water. Cover, reduce heat, and allow to simmer until peas are cooked (not very long if using frozen peas, so be glad you got everything all ready to go). Stir occasionally, adding more water if the pan looks too dry. Add potatoes, spices, and lemon juice. Stir to combine and cook for 3-4 minutes over low heat. Check seasoning and adjust as necessary. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl that will hold filling, and allow to cool.
  • To assemble: Knead dough again and divide into 8 equal (I find it easiest to this by weight) balls. Keep 7 covered while you work with the eighth. Roll ball out into a circle with a 7-inch diameter. Cut it in half with a sharp knife. With one half of the circle form a cone, the rounded edge forming the top of the cone and the straight edge coming together. Use a little water to glue the seam together, making sure there isn't a hole in the bottom. Fill cone with about 2-1/2 Tbs. of potato mixture, starting with a very little to make sure it gets down to the point of the cone. Once the cone is full, seal the top by brushing one side with water and pinching dough together. Repeat with the other half of the circle and remaining seven balls of dough.
  • Put about 2 inches of vegetable (I highly recommend grape seed) oil in a small, deep frying pan and set over medium heat. When the oil is medium-hot, put in as many samosas as will fit in a single layer. Fry slowly, turning frequently, until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels (or newspaper).
They turned out well, I have to admit. And why wouldn't they? Madhur wouldn't lead you astray. The only thing I might do differently in future is to cook them in slightly hotter oil, because they weren't quite as crisp as I might have hoped. They went down awfully well, though, with a bit of Y.'s peach chutney and a nice glass of beer.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rose Geranium Infused Simple Syrup

I did this far too late in the season. What does one do with infused simple syrups? Make cocktails. When does one most want to drink sweet cocktails? In the summer. Like I said, my timing is off, but nevertheless I think this syrup has potential.
Besides, I had to make it. My mom's geranium was dying after a summer spent in almost constant precipitation on the shady side of the house so she gave me the leaves, making me promise to put them to good use. My first idea was to make this apple geranium jelly I saw, but then the apples I got were so good straight out of the bag that I couldn't bear to make jelly out of them. I briefly considered geranium ice cream, but my freezer is still full of the basil and maple walnut ice cream from a couple weeks ago, so that was out. The leaves were starting to wilt in their plastic bag in the fridge so yesterday I decided I would just use them to flavor a simple syrup.

Geranium Infused Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 large handful scented geranium leaves
  • Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has COMPLETELY dissolved. When syrup begins to bubble, reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan. Once cool, strain syrup and discard leaves. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Should keep for two weeks or so.
Mom wasn't sure what kind of scented geranium she had, but scented it certainly was. After tasting the syrup, I can say with near certainty that it was a rose geranium. At first it is just sweet, but then you get a very distinct rose flavor. It reminds me of the Persian desserts my parents' Iranian friends used to serve us in South Africa.
I don't know what sort of drink I would put it in, but it would have to have some fizz, maybe some citrus, and a flower to garnish. Or rose geranium lemonade could be tasty. Or you could incorporate it somehow into a grilled fruit affair. Possibilities. Definite possibilities.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sansa Apples with Landaff Cheese

It was still summer when I picked up my first half-peck of fruit from Scott Farm. The bag was loaded with peaches and plums and the heady aroma of soft, ripe fruit. A week later fall had arrived and, while peaches from the farm were still available, my csa share was mostly apples. To be more precise, it was a half-peck of the most beautiful Sansa apples. I'm glad they wrote the variety on the bag or I might have made the mistake of cooking them.
I did a tiny bit of internet research and learned that the Sansa is the product of 20 years of Japanese-Australian co-operation beginning in 1969. It is an early maturing apple with a beautiful red-blush-over-yellow-green skin. It's flesh is firm yet tender, juicy, and very sweet with just the right amount of tartness. Sansas are not keepers and should be eaten soon after harvest.
I ate my first Sansa without accompaniment, taking one crisp, juicy, sweet bite after the other and practically devouring the core. I got to thinking about it, because these are the things I think about, and decided the crisp sweetness of the apple would be contrasted nicely by a buttery, kinda tangy, sorta salty, mostly mellow cheese--a Welsh style cheddar, for instance. The cheese I had in mind was Cobb Hill's Four Corners Caerphilly, but the Co-op was out of stock. I ended up with a nice piece of Landaff Cheese, a Welsh style semi-firm farmstead cheese made from raw milk in New Hampshire and aged at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. I was not disappointed. These are the things, some of them anyway, that make me feel very lucky to have landed in Vermont.
I can highly recommend both the apple and the cheese for any snack or platter or cheese plate or fruit plate or dessert. To make a meal of it, I could see adding some walnuts to the mix and a bit of cured meat and a hunk of good bread, a glass of beer or wine and, of course, at least one good friend.
Do let the cheese stand at room temperature for half an hour or so before serving to bring out all the flavors and to be able to truly enjoy its buttery texture. Squeeze lemon juice over the apple wedges to preserve their beautiful white flesh.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pine Nut Shortbread Basil Ice Cream Sandwiches

It's amazing how circles will find a way of closing themselves. After making basil sorbet and ice cream I had half a bunch of basil leftover. It was enough to make pesto so I bought pine nuts. After making pesto I was left with half a baggie of pine nuts. The idea of making ice cream sandwiches had been kicking around in my head for a few days and it eventually dawned on me to use the leftover pine nuts in the cookies that would sandwich the basil ice cream. I'm just glad I had used all the garlic.
I got out The Best of Fine Cooking's Cookies magazine from last Christmas, remembering that it included several shortbread recipes. The one that caught my eye was the Orange-Hazelnut Shortbread, but instead of using orange zest and hazelnuts I substituted lemon zest and pine nuts. The nuts, of course, had to be ground. Pine nuts, it turns out, don't grind very well. Because of the high oil content they go very quickly past the ground state to pine nut butter. Initially I was distressed, but decided to use the pine nut butter anyway. The only difference it seemed to make was that the cookies spread a little more than shortbread usually does. The texture was still good and flaky and the flavor was worth a bit of spreading.

Pine Nut Shortbread

adapted from The Best of Fine Cooking: Cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter, cold
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 5 oz. flour
  • 1/4 ground pine nuts (may resemble pine nut butter)
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat and set aside.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter, sugar, and salt at low speed until combined but not completely smooth. Add flour, pine nuts, and zest and mix, again at low speed, until the dough begins to come together. Be careful not to overmix.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and bring it together with your hands. Roll it out to about 1/4-inch thick and cut out cookies with either cutters or a knife. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet. Gather the scraps and reroll the dough for more cookies.
  • [Alternately, form the dough into a cylinder, making sure it is well compacted and not hollow in the middle, and freeze for at least half an hour. Cut 1/4-inch thick cookies from the cylinder and arrange on prepared baking sheet.]
  • To decorate, attractively arrange a few whole pine nuts on half of the cookies. These will be the tops of your ice cream sandwiches.
  • Chill cookies in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Bake until cookies are golden on the bottom and edges and pale to golden on top, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Remove to racks and allow to cool completely before assembling ice cream sandwiches.
For the sandwiched material I used ice cream that had already been in the freezer for a few days. I made ice cream pucks by mushing it into a cookie cutter the same diameter as my cookies and then sandwiched the pucks between the cookies. It worked pretty well, although the edges melted very quickly and I kept having to catch drips and clean the edges and finally I just through the sandwich in the freezer, figuring it would work itself out there. And it did. I think a better system would be to have the cookies made and cooled before you churn the ice cream and then scoop the still soft, freshly churned ice cream onto the bottom cookie, put the other cookie on top, gently squeeze them together until the ice cream reaches the edges and then calmly put the sandwich in the freezer. As for the freezing, I think the sandwiches can harden up openly in the freezer and only once they are completely frozen need to be transferred to an airtight situation for storage.

Ice Cream Sandwiches

for 6-8 sandwiches

  • Method one (using ice cream already made and hardened): Clear a space in your freezer and place a baking sheet in the cleared space. Using a cookie cutter or other mold the same diameter as your cookies, a plate, and a spoon, form a scoop and a bit of ice cream into a puck. With an offset palette knife, or any other tool you have to hand, place the puck of ice cream on the bottom cookie. Place the other cookie on top of the ice cream and squeeze slightly. Quickly clean up the edges and place the sandwich on the baking sheet in the freezer. Repeat with remaining ice cream and cookies. Allow sandwiches to freeze completely and then place them in an airtight container or wrap them to store.
  • Method two (using freshly churned ice cream): I haven't actually tried this, but I think it might be the superior method. Clear a space in your freezer and place a baking sheet in the cleared space. Put a scoop of freshly churned (and thus soft serve-y) ice cream in the center of the bottom cookie. Place the other cookie on top and gently squeeze until the ice cream reaches the edges. Place sandwich on baking sheet in freezer. Repeat until all cookies are made into sandwiches. Allow sandwiches to freeze completely and then place them in an airtight container or wrap them to store.