Friday, March 26, 2010

Renoir's Strawberries ~ Feasting On Art

I was born on the same date as Pierre-Auguste Renoir --Feb 25th. This could be why Renoir (1841 to 1919) has always captured my imagination. We are celestially related.

Luncheon of the Boating Party 1881

I love what he does with fruit and vegetables in his wonderful blue dishes. So many of his paintings involve food and restaurants or en plein air picnics or just beautifully composed still lifes.

Fruits from the Midi 1881

In his hands, even the humble onion looks spectacular with his heroic brushwork.

Onions 1881

When Megan at Feasting on Art encouraged her fans with a contest to use this beautiful painting as inspiration (as she does brilliantly in every post) I wracked my brain to come up with something interesting befitting the challenge.

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Strawberries, 1905, 
oil on canvas, 46 x 28 cm, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, France

Strawberries in hand, I decided to keep them in their perfect pure state and cook around them. I had my lemon and decided the little blue and white pot would have Martha Stewart’s Basil Jelly inside. You may think making jelly is just too much for a recipe but I must tell you… I use it for everything since it’s divine on fresh fruit and magnificent with fish and chicken.

As for the St. Germain elderflower liqueur , TRUE CONFESSION -- I was completely seduced by the provocative ad campaign and the stunning bottle so I bought some! The great thing is that it tastes amazing with an indescribable sweetness and delicacy that does lovely things to a Crème Anglaise and the bottle is so Fin de siècle which seems perfect for this recipe.

The glass is English 1850’s, the bowl is Japanese Meiji Period

Strawberries with Lemon-Almond Tuiles, St Germain Crème Anglaise. and Basil Jelly

Pour crème anglaise in your dish of choice, drizzle on some basil jelly and add strawberries and then enjoy the sheer decadence of dipping the strawberries in the thick scented cream whilst munching on those tuiles. You can also have a dish of jelly and one of crème anglaise! You may want to gild that lily and have St. Germain on the side. It tastes like Spring with alcohol.

Lemon Almond Tuiles Adapted from Martha Stewart
1/2 cup almonds, ground fine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
 (start with 3 T and see if that is enough)
1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large egg whites

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Juice and Zest of 1 small lemon
2/3 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted 

Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.

In a bowl whisk together ground almonds, flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk in whites, butter, and almond extract until combined.

Drop rounded teaspoons of batter about 4 inches apart onto baking sheet and with back of a spoon spread into 3 1/2-inch rounds. Sprinkle each cookie with about 1/2 tablespoon sliced almonds.

Bake the cookies in the middle of your oven for 8-10 minutes, or until golden around the edges.
As the cookies become done, remove them from baking sheet, 1 at a time, with a thin spatula. Cool cookies completely and transfer to an airtight container.

Make more cookies with remaining batter in same manner, replacing parchment paper with fresh sheet for each batch (if you're using parchment paper instead of a Silpat). Tuiles may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

St Germain Bottle

St Germain Crème Anglaise

3 large egg yolks

¼ c fine sugar
(if you don’t have it, whirl regular around in a spice grinder or blender)
½ t. vanilla extract
1 c milk

1 c heavy cream
1-2 T St Germain (elderflower liqueur)

Lightly whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.

Place the milk and cream into a saucepan. Bring almost to the boil. Whisk the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, then return to the pan and cook over medium heat.

Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Do not let it boil. Strain through a fine sieve and allow it to cool to room temperature with plastic wrap placed directly onto the surface of the mixture and then refrigerate until cold.

Purple Basil Jelly from Martha Stewart

1 ½ c packed purple basil leaves, washed and dried
Zest of 1 lemon
3 whole cloves
2 allspice berries
1 ¾ c orange juice
½ c balsamic vinegar
4 c sugar
3 oz liquid pectin (I tried the powdered Organic variety but it didn’t work properly)

Crush the basil leaves and place in a saucepan with the zest, cloves, allspice, oj and vinegar and bring slowly to a boil. Transfer to a bowl and steep at least 30 minutes.

Strain and press on solids to measure 2 C and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar and boil. Add pectin and boil 1 minute more. Remove from heat, skim and pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.
or Foodie Friday
****My poor little Shiz just passed away suddenly... so this blog is dedicated to him.... may he have endless bones in heaven!
****** Shiz was buried in a beautiful place with a great view overlooking a pond. Our friend Robert who has sung at Carnegie Hall helped us sing Amazing Grace. He was buried with 35 million year old amber perfume, ambergris, a dot of 1850 madeira and his favorite dog treats as befitting royalty(well maybe not the dog treat part). Boy is that going to confuse an archeologist!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Asparagus Dip just in time for Spring!

Asparagus is remarkable stuff. I have loved the taste for most of my life but never knew how truly great it could be until I grew it in my garden.
The 175-year old house that we bought had many wonderful things about it. It had a creek, it was set on a river… and it had a very mature asparagus patch! It was overgrown when we took over that August so many years ago but it took to taming and lo and behold on May 6th the next year… there were asparagus poking their little necks from the soil.
Asparagus growing
At first I thought it was a joke being played on me since they shoot up just as they are… but no, they were attached!
They need to be picked fairly regularly for 1 month. After that the asparagus must be allowed to bolt and make lovely asparagus ferns to nourish themselves for the next season. It takes a few years to get a bed going and the plants need to be dug very deeply to be most successful. It is a good deal of work but the result will be worth it and will continue for decades!
As any gardener knows, it is the thick stalk that is the healthiest and most flavorful, not the pencil thin stalks. tells us that it is a member of the lily family and a spear can grow 10” in one day so if you have a weekend garden you can leave on Sunday with a bag of asparagus and a barren patch and return on Friday night to find a forest of 3’ tall specimens! They still can be eaten but will be quite tough as they get closer to the ground.
Freshly cut from the garden, asparagus is staggeringly good with not much else but butter and maybe a bit of lemon. I have loved roasting them (500º slathered in olive oil for 10 minutes) since it concentrates the flavor but usually I just steam them.
I don’t do dips as a rule… not really much at all. But a have a few that I return to year after year and this is one of them. It doesn’t have a name aside from "the asparagus dip" and I have no idea where it came from… perhaps a NY restaurant years gone by. It is simple and so very good with other vegetables too. Since it’s made with tofu it is a lovely vegetarian dish.

Asparagus Dip

¼ c silken tofu
¼ c mild flavored vegetable oil (I used Macadamia which was recommended by Deborah at A Doctor's Kitchen and is really a great oil)
2 T Rice Wine Vinegar
2 T Sesame oil
1T Soy Sauce
1 small clove garlic, crushed
chervil for garnish
Throw it all into the blender and you’re done. This is enough for 1 bunch of asparagus.

My old asparagus patch...

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Smoked Chicken Salad with Orange & Chili Sauces

When you get a wonderful cache of peppers from Marx Foods with the only proviso being to use your imagination and see what you can come up with… the possibilities that stretch before you are staggering. What can’t you do with dried peppers (I was going to say facials… but given the wonders that capsaicin can do for your circulation… even that might not be so bad -as long as you miss your eyes and nose!)??
Chili Photos from Marx Foods
I know by now all of you are familiar with the term Scoville Heat Units (SHU) to describe the heat in peppers. Bell peppers start at a dismal 0 and pure capsaicin tops out at 16,000,000 -- with pepper spray (yeah, the kind that cops use) coming in 500,000 to 5, 300.000 and the hottest pepper on the planet, the Bhut Jolokia at 855,000 to 1,050,000 (the jalapeno is a puny 2500-8000!) Humidity and soil play a great part in what part of the scale a particular pepper will take. * The heat scale is determined by human tests. The moment the heat appears in the tester’s mouth, the scale is set. Pure capsaicin is identifiable in 16 million parts of water!!!! Imperfect measuring to be sure, but an industry standard nonetheless.*
That said, Marx Foods sent me a package of medium heat chili. Being dried… the Scovilles seem to register higher that they do with the fresh variety since their chipotles (dry jalapenos) measure in at 25,000! With peppers this good you can smell how fresh they are… not like those sad peppers at the market in those little plastic packages that have been hanging there FOREVER! When I saw the Guajillo, New Mexico, Puya, Chipotle, Japones, smoked Serrano and De Arbol chilis, I knew I wanted to show them off in a fairly pure form… so I settled on a beautiful mole. Now, what else?
Madeleine Kamman, Photo by Lois Siegal
I thought I’d borrow from one of my favorite cookbook authors and legendary cooking teacher, Madeline Kamman who should be up there in the cook’s pantheon with Julia Child save for the fact she is so precise and brilliant (with a laser sharp, peregrine-fast mind and an insatiable curiosity about all things edible) that she might seem less accessible to the general audience than sweet, chicken-dropping Julia. Even she said "My own intensity has been a lifelong battle”, in a NYT interview with Molly O’Neill and wondered out-loud: ''I am French!'' she said in the interview in 1982. ''Why would they want an American 'French Chef'?''.
When I looked online to check into her history I discovered a legion of former students who will tell you she walks on water (and is the best cooking teacher ever) and that her classes changed their lives but also that she was one of the first of the Europeans to start playing with chili and lime and new world flavors. There we go, a connection! The Global Gourmet’s bio of her revealed that Kamman has been working at the stove since she was a teen, moving to the US when she got married in the 60’s after taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. In the states she taught classes and opened a restaurant in Boston that was a real game-changer, named Chez la Mere Madeleine -- considered to be one of the finest in the country during its 1975-79 run. Although she has done many wonderful books, her most recent book The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques, And Science Of Good Cooking
derives from her brilliant but much less ambitious The Making of a Cook, from the 70’s, a book I have had forever. It was always an amazing guidebook that explains why things work (or don’t) with charm and precision. The new version is an encyclopedia of cooking that teaches you what to do and most important, why things go wrong or right. A few of her recipes are among my favorites ever (I also love In Madeleine's Kitchen, she’s that good. I don't usually do this but I can't recommend buying her books enough... you will love them and I have linked to all of them on Amazon for you!!!
Many years ago (this is how I get in the history part), I started making this insanely good sauce of hers. I thought to myself, how would it be if I put a little heat into it? It is fabulous with the smoked chicken she recommended, avocado, orange slices and arugula… but I’ve also done it with smoked fish, duck and plain old chicken and turkey breast…honestly, I could see it with pork too. It’s that good. It is a riff on the famous orange sauce bigarade but without the meat stock element--with egg and oil and cream providing the body instead of reduced stock and flour so it is vegetarian ( I seem to be on an orange kick these days, don't I). I did make it with blood oranges instead of the regular Valencia. The taste is a little less sweet but I love it and the color of the orange sections is just too beautiful.
Orange Sauced Salad Inspired by the Inspiring Madeleine Kamman
Serves 4

½ c orange juice*
1 egg yolk
½ c dry Madeira or fino sherry
 ½ c virgin olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
½ t. lemon zest 
½ t orange zest
¼ c cream

2 avocados
 2 blood oranges (peeled and sectioned)
1 kiwi, peeled and sliced
1 small garlic clove
1 green onion,
1 small red onion, sliced
salt to taste 
small bunch arugula
small radicchio

^ Mad Mole sauce ^
 1- 1 ½ pounds of boneless cooked meat **

*I used blood orange, if you do so, you might want to add a tsp. of sugar as they are not as sweet as a regular orange...taste and see.
** 2 smoked chicken breasts, or the equivalent in smoked fish or turkey, pork or duck. I got my smoked chicken from Nodine’s online.

Combine orange juice, Madeira or sherry, half the lemon juice, zests and a pinch of salt and boil till reduced to 3 T and it is a thick syrup - add zest.

Cool, then whisk in the egg yolk and slowly add the olive oil, whisking all the while.
Add the cream and the rest of the lemon juice to taste… you may not want to use it all. I have also made this without the cream, adding a little more olive oil instead. Add salt to taste.

Place a handful of arugula or endive on a plate. Add your meat/fish of choice, avocado and orange slices and the onion. Drizzle the orange sauce on the plate and dot with the chili mole.
****I used dandelion and it makes great dramatic swoops in the photos but decided in the end… the arugula is best.

^ Mad Mole Sauce ^
2 dried New Mexico chili (seeded)
2 smoked Serrano chili (or chipotle) seeded
3 dried apricot halves (or 3 T raisins)
2 T Madeira (I used Boston Bual)
2 T espresso (liquid-or dark roast coffee)
1 t of anise
Salt to taste
1 t pepper (I like grains of paradise… but black is fine)
2 t. molasses
Re-hydrate the chili and apricots (or raisins) in enough water to cover until softened. You can speed the process by popping it in the microwave for a moment. Puree the softened chili and apricots (or raisins) with the anise and Madeira and coffee in a blender, use some of the soaking liquid so that it has the consistency of ketchup.

*As always, facts come from the great and glorious Wikipedia!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sherwood Forest Cocktail from Hotel Cipriani

Sherwood Forest is a name for a wonderful sparkling cocktail that I’m going to share with you and it’s also an excuse to gush about the 1938 classic film The Adventures of Robin Hood that happens to be my favorite film (there may be others that are smarter and deeper but this has been my #1 since age 8--I am nothing if not loyal) that also inspired my career choice.

The first time I drove by myself to Chicago I went to the Biograph Theater to see a matinee of The Adventures of Robin Hood , barely weeks after my 16th birthday. I had seen it on the small screen for years but this was my first time in a theater with a good print. As Sam Coleridge said somewhere … it was as if the cataracts had been removed from my eyes. The color, the color!!!

The New Yorker magazine once did a magnificent piece on the wonders of 3 strip Technicolor films (it was shot with 3 strips of film registering green, red and blue to which was added cyan, magenta and yellow--this was combined to make the full-color image) and the magical way they maintained their vibrancy when younger films had already begun to fade. My experience that day was that I had opened a jewel box. Errol was perfect (with great legs), Olivia was perfect (with great clothes), even the bad guys were perfect (with great voices) and the colors… astonishing.

When I moved to NY, I saw it again at an Upper West Side Theater. The audience was as colorful as the film and when Errol walked into the castle with a deer slung over his shoulder in those tights…. an entire audience gasped and giggled in awe and delight at the greatest legs on the planet. It was an unforgettable NY moment.

Think of good always triumphing over evil… in Technicolor. When times are tough and the good guys seem to be taking it on the chin, this is the movie to see. If you’ve never seen it…. get yourself a copy… you will thank me. Having one of these Sherwood Forest Cocktails while you watch with good friends on a rainy afternoon… is there anything that a sparkling cocktail doesn’t improve?

Photo by Christopher Strickland

There really is a Sherwood Forest, you know. Situated in Nottinghamshire in the center of England, it is home to many ancient trees -- most notably the “Major Oak” that is so enormous it has a 35’ waist! The tree was young when Robin Hood’s liege lord, Richard the Lionheart, was King of England at the end of the 12th Century (although Richard was born in Oxford, he never spoke English and spent nearly all of his life out of the country—so much for this “English Legend” who died and was buried in France).

The Major Oak

This drink comes from the Cipriani Hotel in Venice, Italy--

nowhere near Sherwood Forest! I found Walter Bolzonella’s recipe

for the drink in the pages of Gourmet Magazine many years ago.

For the life of me the only thing the cocktail has to do with Sherwood Forest is that its color resembles one that was used in Olivia de Havilland’s costumes. It is Technicolor tinted-with-blackberry blue-red. Sherwood Forest is Bolzonella’s name for the drink, not mine. It’s a great twist on Cipriani’s classic Bellini with spiced blackberries supplying the fruit component of the drink instead of the more demure white peach. I intend to use the spicing for the next blackberry pie I make… it is really a great combination.

Sherwood Forest Cocktails

Serves 5

½ c water

2 whole cloves

6 juniper berries (crushed)

Zest of ½ lime

2 t honey

1” piece of cinnamon

1 c blackberries

¼ - 1/3 C Maple Syrup (they used Lt. Brown Sugar)

2 c crushed ice

2 ½ C Prosecco

Boil the water, add the spices and honey and cool. Strain and pour the infusion into a blender with the berries, maple syrup and ice and blend. Pour through a sieve. Use 3 T puree for ½ c of Prosecco.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Apple Mousse from Ullapool, Scotland

Paul Hart photo of Ullapool

This mousse is another one of my forever favorites. It comes from what I remember as being a Brigadoon-like town in the Scottish Highlands on the shore of Loch Broom and surrounded by the mountain An Teallach to the south. The name of the town, Ullapool (or Ulapul) is Gaelic for Wolf Farm…or Norse for Wool Farm. It is known for its art and culture and has been the location for many a film since it has changed little in 100 or so years (thanks to the railroad not going through) and for having been designed in 1788 by the noted bridge builder and architect, Thomas Telford (nicknamed the Colossus of Roads). *

Ullapool Church built by Thomas Telford in 1829

Apple mousse has been a favorite in one form or another in the British Isles for a very long time. The Elizabethans had the wonderfully named Dyschfull of Snowe that had whipped cream and egg whites, sugar and rosewater and the apple in the center of the dish stuck with evergreen. Here is the original (I know I’ve been at this too long when I read Elizabethan English smoothly!) from The Proper Booke of Cokerye, a 16th c cookbook.

To make a dyschefull of 

Take a pottell of swete thycke creame
 and the whytes of eyghte egges, and beate 
them altogether wyth a spone, then putte 
them in youre creame and a saucerfull of
 Rosewater, and a dyshe full of Suger wyth all, 
then take a stycke and make it cleane, and 
than cutte it in the ende foure square, and 
ther with beate all the afore sayde thynges
 together, and ever as it ryseth take it
of and put it into a Collaunder, this done
 take one apple and set it in the myddes of it,
and a thicke bushe of Rosemary, and set it
in the myddes of the platter, then cast your
 Snowe uppon the Rosemarye and fyll your 
platter therwith. And yf you have wafers
 caste some in wyth all and thus serve them 

The Germans have something similar made with egg white named aptly apfelschaum which is apple foam in English and which is what it is like… light sweet and delicious. This recipe is not light but it is fabulous and so delicious. My memories of Scotland are fond indeed although I haven’t been back in many a year. Every time I taste this mousse I'm back again!

Midcoast Fine Antiques of Maine

When I looked at the apple mousse, my first thought was “It is beige”. I always tell my art directors that 'beige = death' on film… it’s a personal prejudice, I know. So I used my Bristol Blue Rummer for an antidote to beige and then I had this crazy idea in my head to do a riff on a Victorian tortoiseshell comb.

The hitch is that the caramel melts so don’t stick them in till you are ready to serve if you decide to try them! They are pretty easy to do simply but if you are feeling inspired you can go nuts! You can make two batches of caramel… one dark and one light and combine them on the silpat to give a real tortoiseshell look. Otherwise, let’s face it… apple mousse isn’t a stunner visually (but wait until you taste it!!). Use a cup of sugar for each color.

Apple Mousse – Based on a recipe from Royal Hotel, Ullapool, Scotland

Serves 4-6

7 c apples ( I used a combination of sweet and tart from Salt Point, NY's Terhune Orchard via Union Square Farmer's Market) peeled and cored in 1” pieces ** you can add spice to the applesauce if you wish… a pinch of cinnamon and star anise is lovely (but make sure to remove the anise before pureeing). I find with the madeira that it is best without spice. Use 2 cups of apple puree.

2 T butter

3T water

l ½ tsp. gelatin (2 T water) *** for you vegetarians, just make the applesauce a little thicker and skip the gelatin… it is still great… I have done this when I made it and realized I had run out of gelatin!!!!

1/3 C honey-mild as you can find it. (I use Champlain Valley Apiaries)

1 C cream (Milk Thistle Farms is the best cream ever!)

1 -2 T scotch or 3 T madeira (Boston Bual or NY Malmsey)


½ C pecans or walnuts

2 T butter

2 T maple syrup

Melt 2 T butter, add apples and 3T water and cook covered for 15 minutes until apples are soft. Puree.

Sprinkle gelatin over 2 T water and soften 5 minutes. Add honey and Scotch (or Madeira) to the warm apples with the gelatin and cool. Beat cream till stiff and blend into the apple mix. Add to glasses and chill.

The topping is my addition to the recipe: Sauté nuts in butter till fragrant. Add maple syrup (and another splash of liquor if you would like) and sprinkle on top of the mousse and serve. It’s nice if the mousse is cold and the nuts are warm.

I’ve made this with Scotch forever… but I tried it with the Madeira and was crazy about it. I got to use a tiny bit of The Rare Wine Company's 1922 Bual in a serving and it was amazing.

*Many of the facts are from Wikipedia or the Ullapool Tourism Bureau

Bristol Blue Rummer, 1820's

Another great Foodie Friday with Gollum!!! See her green cupcakes!