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Posts Tagged ‘zest’

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Hot sourdough bread with butter.

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Same slice. I just couldn’t decide which was the purtier.

So maybe it’s because I went from making a 12-ingredient* fruitcake over Christmas to drizzling Baileys into snow last week that’s really making me appreciate the value of simplicity. Or maybe it’s because I’m an editor as well as a writer, and stripping the superfluous out of everything from copy to my Facebook friends list to food ingredients appeals to me. Or—this is probably it—it’s that the simpler the ingredients and prep, the more satisfying the dish.

People usually assume that since I’m a food writer I put all of my focus on fancy restaurants, but to be honest, the opposite is true: I don’t care about fine dining. I care about ingredients. Choose the best ingredients and don’t mess with them too much. Why should you? They already had big plans to speak for themselves.

Years ago Dr. Andrew Weil said his idea of the ultimate dessert was good-quality dark chocolate along  with fruit, in season (this matters) and perfectly ripe. It’s both healthy and heavenly.

For a real challenge along those lines, for a week (or more) keep recipe ingredients down to the bare minimum—three to five, tops. Pared down just to the essence of themselves, offered in the best possible light with the matchmaking** of your two sweet hands, and people start to call you a good cook. It’s nutty.

The shots here are bloody good memories of mine. Every component of every dish is of good quality and consequently didn’t fail me. And none have more than five ingredients.

I’d continue, but I don’t want to shoot my premise in the foot.***

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Just-picked organic strawberries and cream.

Mozzarella in carrozza: a cheese sandwich dipped in egg, dredged in flour, and butter-fried.

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Organic figs I picked, then dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel.

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Scotch Woodcock: toast smeared with butter and anchovy paste, then topped with very softly cooked scrambled eggs and a couple whole fishie cuties.

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Lemon curd: lemon zest, juice, sugar and eggs, plus a little pat of butter.

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Gianduja (homemade Nutella): dark chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, sugar, cream and butter.

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Popovers: all-purpose flour, eggs, milk, butter and salt.

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A pineapple kebob-like thing I came up with: fresh cut pineapple doused in Malibu rum and dusted with sweetened shredded coconut.

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Another invention of mine: mulberries picked from the tree outside my balcony and cooked down into a jam with sugar, several hefty splashes of Petite Syrah, and ground cardamom.

*And it would have been 13 but I couldn’t find candied angelica.

**I couldn’t think of this word. I could only think of ‘shiddoch’. True story. So I Googled that to get me to the English word. The nine remaining drops of my sanity are going to fall out of my ears one of these days.

***I also mix metaphors the way good things come to those who take the bull by the horns.

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I once read a succinct account of what jam-making comes down to: ‘Take a bunch of fruit and sugar and boil the hell of it.’  Which is about as accurate as it gets. Although I haven’t yet gotten up the stones to make jam and then to can it because I’m chicken of getting whatever it is you can get if you do it wrong, I have figured out a way around this.

1) Make the jam, put it in a big Tupperware container, and put it in the freezer with a piece of parchment right on top of the fruit so it doesn’t get freezer-burny.

2) Make the jam, put it in a big Tupperware container, put it in the fridge, and eat it unabashedly every day for a week until it’s gone.*

I’ve done jam both ways, but for the following recipe, I typically do the latter.

Rhubarb, once called pieplant, is actually a vegetable, but it pairs so well with fruit that we give it a pass and treat it as such. It’s usually baked with strawberries—an admirable combination, if somewhat trite. Making marmalade out of rhubarb and citrus is a fresh way to enjoy it. And yet…this is a recipe from the turn of the last century. Everything old is new again, the early bird gets the worm, haste makes waste, etc.

I think you’ll dig it.

2 lbs. roughly chopped rhubarb (without the green leafy tops, which would give you a stomachache)

Juice of 1 orange

Juice of 1 lemon

2 cups granulated sugar**

2 oranges peeled, seeded and sectioned

Zest of 1 orange

1 lemon peeled, seeded and sectioned

Zest of 1 lemon

Put your rhubarb and juices into a deep pot.*** Bring to a boil, cover, and go check your email for about 15 minutes or until the rhubarb softens. Stir in your sugar, bring the heat back up, and boil, stirring for 5 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, stir in your citrus, and give it an occasional stir until it cools. That’s it.

This marmalade would work well on toast, or stirred into steel-cut Irish oatmeal, or drizzled warm over vanilla ice cream, or layered with yogurt. It would be killer layered between lemon cake or pound cake. It would glimmer with the collective light of the Milky Way galaxy in a Pavlova, that Australian favorite made of meringue and whipped cream. Or you could be boring like me and eat it right out of the Tupperware with whatever spoon’s clean.

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*Oh, also? Stock up on Imodium first.

**For a marmalade that’s more like, well, marmalade—that is to say, stiffer—add more sugar. The sweetness you get from 2 cups of sugar works for me, so my goo ends up with more of an applesaucy consistency.

***My pot above is enamelware and was bought at a horse farm near me, out of a barn that smelled of wood stove smoke. The splatters are from a chicken I roasted once and which insisted on leaving a bit of a grim legacy.

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I never had much of a thing for lemons until a few years ago. They were something served with fish, or they occasionally, delicately, flavored a cookie. Sort of forgettable fruits.

Then I had stomach problems, bad ones, and was forced to swear off anything citrusy for a good couple of years. I missed oranges and orange juice. When that time mercifully ended, I had powerful cravings for citrus, but not in sweetie-pie doses like the aforementioned lemon cookies. Standard lemon cookies, bars, squares—none of them cut it anymore, not even those from homey bakeries. If I was going to eat something with lemon, I wanted to TASTE it. Which meant making my own lemon desserts.

A few years back I read with interest an article about lemons in the food section of my local paper. It was engaging, telling of the writer’s adoration of lemon curd, but ended on the most depressing note: the writer said he had never had luck making curd at home and that it was best just to go out and buy it.

The poor, misguided soul was fairly begging for someone to set him straight, so I wrote him and told him in a very polite but firm tone that food writers should be encouraging their readers to cook, to get used to the feel and temperament of ingredients—not to have a couple of botch-ups and then give up. Then I gave him the below lemon curd recipe. He agreed graciously, I’m happy to say.

I’ve had this recipe for a while and have tweaked it this way and that. Add more or fewer eggs to increase or decrease richness (though, really, the lemon flavor in this is so assertive that richness takes more than a back seat to it. It’s not even in the back seat; it’s sitting on the trunk and holding onto the spoiler for dear life. So extra richness is hardly worth considering, in my opinion.) This is NOT a recipe for those who think boxed lemon cookies taste just swell. It is for those few who jones for the eye-dabbing kick that real lemon zest and real, undiluted lemon juice gives.

Make the curd with ordinary lemons from the supermarket and it’s delicious. Make it with Meyer lemons, that current darling of the food world (as well as of my own), and the result is stratospheric. The bracing sunny sweetness will actually make your day a little happier, I promise.

3/4 c granulated sugar (use a little bit less if you really like a lemon wallop)

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (if you have one of those microplane graters, use it here)

2 large eggs (or 1 egg plus 1 white)

The juice of three big lemons

A pat of  butter, about a tablespoon or so

Put sugar, rind and eggs in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir it with a whisk until the sugar dissolves. This takes 2-3 minutes.

Add lemon juice and your pat of butter and whisk for about 5 minutes more, until the mixture becomes a bit thicker. To chill, put a lid on the pan, put a dishtowel on a rack in your fridge and set the pan on it. It will thicken up in the fridge some more, and makes about 1 1/2 cups.

I’m told this can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, but if your resistance is anything like mine, that tip is kind of immaterial. Apparently it can also be frozen in a freezer Ziploc. Again, hearsay.

This curd is lovely spread between layers of white cake, on hot scones or biscuits served with very cold, thick whipped cream, or as the top layer of the best lemon squares you’ve ever eaten.

I doubled this recipe as a birthday present for my mom, who ate every bit in the best way I can think of: just as the title above suggests.

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