Friday, June 24, 2011

Arista, Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary and a little HEAT!

A few weeks ago I brought a book with me to read over a long weekend in Vermont.  The book? Not an antique this time but rather 2006’s Heat by Bill Buford.  It was one of those books I’d been meaning to read for years but just never got around to doing it.  Once I started it was hard to stop.

Heat tells the tale of a mild-mannered magazine editor who throws caution to the wind and bravely jumps the good-ship-New Yorker  to live the life of a cook.

Mario Battali

Working first for Mario Batali at Babbo, then, following in Batali’s footsteps on the culinary learning trail ––
Marco Pierre White

Buford goes to visit the mad genius Marco Pierre White in London.


Next he spends time at a tiny Italian restaurant in Porretta Terme, Italy to learn from a pasta sorceress named Betta.

He finishes with the world-renowned Dante-spouting butcher in the Tuscan town of Panzano–– Dario Cecchini the meat artist, nicknamed the “Michelangelo of Meat”.

In the course of a few years, Buford moved from a professional-kitchen visitor to tourist to a legitimate member of the cooking profession and learned his lessons well.  By the end of his tour of duty he could dance to the rhythm of the kitchen “line” like a pro and had an enormous feeling of pride of accomplishment, as well he should.  I can’t imagine pulling it off at my age.  It’s a great inspirational book.

Returning to NYC, Buford employs the skills from his butchering lessons with Dario to take a pig apart in 7 days, using every morsel to make dish after glorious dish.  On the 4th day of his labours he made the classic Tuscan pork dish, Arista.   To make it he “ … added ingredients in Dario’s order:  garlic, thyme, the fennel pollen… the black blanket of pepper, the green blanket of rosemary, the salt blizzard.” Something clicked when I read about those blizzards, I was lost –– I couldn’t help myself –– I had to make this with a piece of D'Artagnan's Berkshire pork tenderloin I had left over from making game pie a few weeks back (probably the best I have ever had!).  The original called for a larger cut… usually the whole loin or “saddle” used with or without the bones so I had to make some changes.  If you have a whole loin just ‘up’ the ingredients for the paste and up the cooking time… loins are around 4 pounds.  I think it would be great grilled but I pan-roasted it. And what about flavor??? It was over-the-top perfectly delicious.

Oh, by the way, lest you think fennel pollen is a new addition... al contrario, it was used when the dish was young... Scappi used it frequently in his seminal 16th century cookbook L'Opera.

Benozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi, 1459 (inspired by the very international Council of Florence)

This dish has serious chops and something like it has been made in Italy since the middle ages, even if the famous story about its beginning is probably apocryphal.  Famous 19th century Italian chef Pellegrino Artusi  reported that the dish was served at the tremendously important ecumenical meeting called the Council of Florence in 1439,  attended by the Byzantine Patriarch Bessarion and most of the top members of the Catholic church in the known world –– it was HUGE. They had to move it to Florence from Ferrara because of worry about plague ( and doubtless because the town larder was emptied feeding them all!).  When the Greek bishops ate this roast (that had been known by a different name at the time) they said “Arista! Arista!” which translates into something like “terrific” (aristos is “the best” in Greek and root of the word aristocrat).  The dish has been called Arista ever since… at least that’s how the story goes.  There is a rumbling coming from a few sources that tells me arista was mentioned a century before this meeting. I haven’t seen the proof for that as of yet, however.  It’s a lovely story, nice if it were true… when you taste it you could imagine it happening.

Served with roasted potatoes with olives… HEAVEN.


Arista with Pork Tenderloin, inspired by Dario (serves 2-3)

2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 sprigs of rosemary, chopped (plus extra for exterior)
2 sprigs of thyme, chopped
½ to 1 t pepper to taste (I went for 1 t)

2 T olive oil
½ c white wine

Chop all the herbs and spices together.  You should have about 3 T.  Gently slice open the tenderloin so it is flattened (around ½” thick) and put 2/3 of the mixture inside.  Fold up the small end and tie the loin together.  Rub the rest of the mixture over the outside.  Stick extra rosemary in the strings.

Preheat oven to 425º

Brown the pork in the oil on all sides in an oven-proof skillet for 3-5 minutes. Pick up any stray bits of garlic and set aside… if you leave them in the pan they will burn. Transfer to the oven for about 15 minutes, turning once, till it registers 145º.  Cut the string and let rest for 5 minutes.

While the meat is resting, add the demiglace and wine and scrape up the brown bits in the skillet and add the garlic you had put aside… pour over the pork to serve.

Garlic Roasted Potatoes with Black Olives from Nancy Harmon Jenkins (serves 3-4)

2 pounds potatoes unpeeled and cut into chunks
4 chopped garlic cloves
3 sprigs rosemary
½ t pepper
1 t chili flakes
½ c olive oil
24 chopped olives
2 T minced parsley

Heat oven to 425º.  Toss the potatoes in the oil, rosemary, pepper and chili. Place in the oven 20 minutes, add the garlic and toss and roast for about 5 more minutes more till browned.  Remove from the oven and add the olives and parsley.  The olives may provide enough salt for the dish, otherwise, add salt to taste.


Thanks again to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!

PS> There are links to the items from  D'Artagnan and Marx Food... just click to get to the website and order!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rhubarb, Playing with Pies and my 101st Post!

Dr. Lostpast complains that I never make the same thing twice.  He says the minute that I make something that he loves, he knows he will never see it again.  As a mostly meat and potatoes guy, he balks at my exuberant investigations into odd organ meats (“sheep balls, are you joking?”) and exotic ingredients (ok, I did grow black furry mold on rotting barley for 3 weeks for an ancient sauce… but Murri’s really good!). 

Fact is, there are many things I make that I have made the same way for decades from my disreputable looking (but much loved) black book of recipes (and an even earlier green book that was started in college).  They are both full of my fool-proof favorites.  I really do make some things over and over!

When I have rhubarb, I go to the book and use the recipe for rhubarb pie.  It is nearly instinctual.  It is always delicious, but I haven’t changed it for… well… decades!

It’s time to mix it up a little and try something new  (I can hear a virtual groan coming from the Doctor’s study although he doesn’t even like rhubarb pie, “Enough with the new, already!).  I decided to begin at the beginning and learn about rhubarb–– about which, I discovered, I knew nothing.

I’d really never thought about it, just ate it! I had a rhubarb patch in my backyard as a kid and had ‘rhubarb sauce’ a lot growing up.  When I got my own house, it came with a very substantial, well-established patch and I started making pies and cobblers with my diminutive forest of ruby stalks. A friend even made a remarkable dish of fried rhubarb dumplings with strawberry sauce.  I never gave the plant itself much thought and believed (in a vague, fuzzy sort of way) it was another gift from our Western European forebears, like apples and cherries (that are actually Persian and came to England with the Romans!) and it was, in a way.  Benjamin Franklin brought the first rhubarb over from England (a Banbury apothecary named Hayward obtained Russian seeds in 1762) and it took off in 19th century America, but, it is not originally from Western Europe, the site Homecooking  tells me, it was indigenous to China and Russia! 

Its binomial name is rheum rhabarbarum (genus rheum in the family of polygonaceae. it is related to tomatillos and amaranth––you can see the relationship to amaranth in the seed stalk on the rhubarb plant).  Rheum comes from the Greek rheuma, meaning "a flowing".  Rhabarbarum comes from the Greek word Rha (or the Sythian word Rhā) for the Volga River (the longest river in Europe) and barbarum (from the Greek barbaron) is "foreign",  (a comment, perhaps, on the non-Roman and thus uncivilized inhabitants of the region—although the pejorative nature of the word may be more modern…). Rhubarb grew wild along the banks of that river. Although it had already been imported to Europe in a dried form for centuries, rhubarb wasn’t introduced to Europe as a growing plant until 1608 when the Italian botanist, Prosper Alpinus began to grow rhubarb in Italy to undercut the price of the expensive imported Chinese root.  It was used as a root first, you see. The stalks were not eaten… rather the root was used medicinally as an excellent purgative by the Chinese (as far back as 2700 years ago) and later much prized in Europe for its effectiveness in curing GI issues. 

A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Eliza Rundell, 1807

It was not until sugar became truly available and affordable that the rhubarb stalk was used as food.  I discovered on the Kitchen Project site  (via the Oxford Companion for Food) that the first published recipe was Maria Eliza Rundell’s in 1807.  It was used in the Middle East much earlier thanks to the Silk Road trade coming from the magical kingdom of Samarkand (isn’t that the most romantically exotic sounding place?) as my friend Laura Kelly at The Silk Road Gourmet pointed out when she used it in a spectacular lamb dish.  Her post actually started me down the rhubarb road when she said it was from the East  ––  not old Europe as I had always believed.

To honor rhubarb, the plant that kept England from a scurvy epidemic during WWII (and made a generation of Britons hate the stuff mightily), a plant that is full of Calcium, Vitamin C, K and Potassium and just darn good for you, I give you two recipes.  One is an Alsatian rhubarb tart from Jean-George Vongerichten via Food and Wine ––and the other is my own recipe with some new additions of rose and ginger. 

The ginger addition began with a recipe for ginger rhubarb cobbler I saw a few weeks back, and then Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie had a rhubarb ginger chutney that looked wonderful.  Next I saw a rhubarb trifle with ginger beer jelly… it was like ginger and rhubarb were in the air!  And why the rose?  Simple, rose and ginger are wonderful together (Aftelier makes a delicious tea with them).  Both recipes are a great way to use the gregariously growing plant.

Rhubarb Pie

2 c strawberries (raspberries or cherries are also great… just add a little more sugar)
4 c ½ “ size pieces of rhubarb
short ¾ c sugar for a tart pie, 1 cup for a sweeter version
1/3 c flour
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 T butter
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t allspice
1 T cassis or framboise
2 drops Aftelier rose essence or 2 t rosewater
2 drops Aftelier ginger essence   or 1 t grated ginger
1 pie crust
1 – 2 T Demerara sugar for sprinkling

Combine all the ingredients except the Demerara.  Allow to sit for an hour while you wait for the pie crust.

Put the filling on the dough and dot with butter.

Place on a foil covered cookie sheet.

Bake at 375º for 1 hour 15 minutes (maybe a bit more depending on fruit, check your oven, when crust is browned slightly and the fruit soft,  the pie is ready).  Press down on the top pieces of fruit and let the dry bits sink into the liquid.  Sprinkle with the demerara sugar just before serving so it sparkles.


1 cup AP flour
¼ c whole-wheat flour
½ t salt
1 T sugar
2 T chopped pecans (or walnuts or almonds)
1 stick frozen butter in small chunks
2 T frozen lard in small chunks (optional)
¼ to 1/3 c ice water

Combine the flour, salt, sugar and pecans in the processor and blend. Add the butter and lard and give it a whirl or 2 till lightly blended with lots of butter bits visable.  Remove the blade and toss in the water all around the dough.  Blend gently with a fork (I think using the processor for this breaks it up too much).

Remove the dough in small handfuls you sort of squeeze together and place the handfuls on a floured surface.   Smear each handful flat (a gentle frissage) and place one on top of the other like pancakes with a bit of flour on the bottom of each (it’s what makes the crust flaky). You are not kneading the dough!  Round the pile a bit. Wrap in parchment or plastic and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out the crust and place in a 9” pie pan, crimping the edges decoratively.  


Alsatian Rhubarb Tart from Food & Wine

.    2 cups all-purpose flour
.    1 teaspoon sugar
.    Pinch of salt
.    1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
.    1 large egg
.    2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ice water
.    2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/3-inch dice
.    1 1/3 cups sugar
.    1 cup heavy cream
.    2 large egg yolks
.    3 large egg whites
.    Pinch of salt

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse just until it is the size of peas. In a small bowl, whisk the egg with the ice water. Drizzle the egg mixture over the dough and pulse just until evenly moistened; do not let it form a ball. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
In a medium bowl, toss the rhubarb with 1/2 cup of the sugar; transfer to a strainer. Set it over the bowl and refrigerate overnight to drain.
Preheat the oven to 375°. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 14-inch round. Fit the pastry into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and trim the overhanging pastry.
Line the pastry with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake the tart shell in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry is set. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake the shell for about 10 minutes, or until cooked and the bottom is lightly golden.
Press on the rhubarb to extract as much liquid as possible. In a bowl, toss the rhubarb with 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Spread the rhubarb in the shell and bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just tender.
In a medium bowl, whisk the cream with the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Pour the custard over the rhubarb and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, or until set.
Increase the oven temperature to 425° and position a rack in the upper third of the oven. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until firm peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, beating until the whites are stiff and glossy.

Spread the meringue over the tart all the way to the side. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 5 minutes, or just until the meringue is lightly browned. Let the tart cool, then remove the ring, slide the tart onto a cake plate and serve.

This is my 101st post which is a landmark of sorts.  Thanks to you all for your support!

Also, sorry if blogger is causing trouble.  Some can't leave comments at all, others must click twice to do it. I heard they are working on it so hopefully they will get it ironed out soon.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cassoulet with Fava Beans thanks to Paula Wolfert and André Daguin

I made a traditional cassoulet last winter full of white beans, duck and pheasant confit and sausage and shared it with you HERE.  It was dark and rich and got slurped up in record time, rich as it was  –– it was inhaled!  I made it a few weeks later (back by popular demand) and same outcome.  It was like a ravenous pack of wild beasties had descended on what I thought was a huge dish.  What should have been enough for 8 was nearly gone with 3!

When I began researching cassoulet for that post, I immediately turned to Paula Wolfert and her classic “The Cooking of Southwest France” for direction.  I realized I had owned that book for 25 years –– and it looks it.  The jacket cover is tattered, the inside is splattered–– it is much-loved because it is beautifully written and researched and the recipes work perfectly, bless her.   If you don’t have it and her other brilliant books on Moroccan and Mediterranean cooking (as well as a recent one on cooking with those gorgeous clay pots) you should… they are inspiring.

Her chapter on cassoulet is magnifique,  which is as it should be since she suffered for her art on this one.  She went to the source of the dish in France and nearly tasted herself into a gastro-intestinal crisis trying all the versions… going from one recommendation to another, one town to the next.  When she included the Prosper Montagne anecdote about a shop sign that announced “Closed on Account of Cassoulet” it was an accurate reflection of toll exacted for her quest… she took to self-medicating with Alka-Seltzer to survive the dangerously delicious ordeal.  

Wolfert tested 3 classic forms from the holy trinity of cassoulet towns in Languedoc.  She tried the Castelnaudary version with pork, ham, pork sausage and pork rind, the Toulouse variety with confit d’oie (or canard) and Toulouse sausage and Carcassonne’s cassoulet with mutton (or partridge in season).  All, however, do have beans as an ingredient although the meat/bean ratio and even the type of beans vary from recipe to recipe.  She even wrestled with the breadcrumb conundrum –– classicists say never use them (they say the crust must come from breaking and reforming the natural crust 7 times, although most admitted to only doing it twice), yet she tasted great cassoulets using crumbs.  It appears in all things cassoulet there is no clear consensus. 

Flying in the face of tradition, Wolfert even tried a Cassoulet de Morue made by Lucien Vanel at his restaurant in Toulouse. It was unorthodox indeed with cod, the ubiquitous beans, seafood sausage, and mussels in a saffron scented fish broth sauced with mustard, egg and cream and a soupçon of mischief as his fishy ingredients playfully winked at the meat-based bastion of classic Toulousean cassoulet (that I made HERE).  It was the same iconoclastic Vanel who inspired a young Ferran Adrià to march to his own drummer at about the same time Wolfert paid a visit in the early 80’s.  Vanel once said “Cuisiner, c'est donner –– Cooking is giving”.   I think Adrià and Wolfert would agree.

The heroically determined Wolfert ate cassoulet in Paris, Toulouse, Castelaundry, Carcassone and Landes.  She ate them in homes and restaurants, she even attended a cassoulet cook-off, but it wasn’t until she visited André Daguin at the Hotel de France in Auch that she found the best cassoulet EVER.  Daguin is the champion of traditional Gascon cuisine and the creator of magret de canard as we know it –– a gently cooked duck breast, separated from the bird. This man knows the ways of the cassoulet ––he makes the preparation sound positively liberating. In the preface to his cookbook, Le Nouveau Cuisinier Gascon he wrote: “To those intimidated by the clock: the longer a recipe cooks, the longer it gives you liberty; and the lower the heat, even though more time is needed, more energy is economized.  The longer a preparation takes, the more your hands are occupied, the more it permits your spirit to be available.” (Thanks to Kate Hill at Kitchen at Camont  for the translation!!).  You’ve got to love a man who thinks that way.  Cassoulet is SLOW food.

Daguin prepared 3 cassoulets for her.  He did the “normal” cassoulet with garlic sausage and steamed confit, a lentil version with the unusual addition of chorizo sausage and then… the winner… a cassoulet made from fresh fava beans, the Cassoulet de Féves with preserved duck and favas… “crisp on the outside soft and buttery-tender  within.  The contrast of flavors and the textures, the beans so full of spring and the Mediterranean, beans that absorbed the taste of the other ingredients and yet, almost paradoxically, maintained a fresh taste of their own –– I could not quite believe what I was eating. It seemed a miracle…. Daguin’s cassoulet of fava beans transcended definitions.  As far as I was concerned, the cassoulet war was won.”  After I read that… I was hooked.

I begrudgingly bid my time until Spring when I could get fresh favas to make this –– I had to make it –– nearly a biological imperative.  It is interesting to note that favas would have been the original bean for the dish, predating the New World beans that have become the standard. 

André’ Daguin’s daughter, D’Artagnan’s own Ariane Daguin said: "Cassoulet made with fresh fava beans is the quintessential French recipe, the origin of it all, as cassoulet appeared before the discovery of the Americas and, thus, before the bean plant came back from there.”

“Personally, it reminds me of the first days of the spring, as the dish, all winter long, can be made only with dried beans. I remember fondly the taste and crunch of the young fava beans, eaten raw right then and there, just dipped in a little coarse salt, as we sorted and peeled the bigger ones to go in the cassoulet.”

I would recommend this cassoulet as a sensational replacement for baked beans for an outdoor cookout… it will knock your guests off their lawn chairs… no fooling. Since there is more meat than beans in this version, it will feed a lot of people too.

Can you imagine it sideling up to beautiful grilled meats and vegetables on a plate with a little forest of crisp salad beside it (although traditionally it is served by itself, with perhaps a light vegetable salad before it)?  Your taste dreams will be filled with its gentle, green-tinted-ducky-piggy goodness all summer long. * Also, very inauthentically... leftovers were great with maple cornbread and broccoli rabe!

Fava Bean Cassoulet (Cassoulet des Féves) inspired by André Daguin
4 drumstick-thigh portions of Confit of Duck (split at joint) Available at D’Artagnan
8-9 pounds of fava beans in their pods (this is a lot of work... easier when watching a good movie)
1 ¾ -2 pounds small white onions, peeled
1 ½ pounds lean fresh pork belly in 1 ½” dice blanched, rinsed and dried (Available at D’Artagnan in a large piece- order by phone 800-327-8246).
salt and pepper (I used smoked salt)
1 T sugar
6 oz pork skin with ¼ “ layer of fat (Available at D’Artagnan as part of the pork belly)
1 quart chicken stock
1 leek, trimmed, washed and left whole
1 large sprig thyme, tied with the leek
6 small ribs celery
5 firm cloves garlic, peeled
1 T Armagnac (optional)
Pinches of Herbes de Provence, nutmeg, mace and allspice (optional)
1 t fresh marjoram (optional)

1. Shuck the beans and discard the pods. You should have 2 quarts of beans. Slip off and discard the skins from 1 cup of the beans, cut the shoots off the rest if you see them, but leave the skins on. The skins will turn dark when you cook them, which is fine.

2. Warm the duck leg confit in a pan to melt whatever fat is on them, then remove the duck and save any fat that accumulates – make sure you have 1 cup. Supplement with extra duck fat if necessary.

3. Sauté the onions in the reserved duck fat 4-5 minutes in a 6-quart casserole. Add the diced and blanched pork with some pepper and sauté 5 minutes longer, or until it is browned a bit.

4. Stir in the peeled favas and sugar. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, mashing the beans a little.

5. Simmer pork skin in water till supple, around 15 - 20 minutes. Drain, roll it up and tie it with string.

6. Add stock, fava beans, pork skin, leek, celery and garlic. Bring to a boil and skim. Reduce heat, cover with parchment or foil pricked in 2 or 3 places. Simmer for 1½ hours.

7. Place duck confit in a colander over steaming water and steam 10 minutes. Remove the duck and cool, then remove the meat from the bones (this is a special trick from Daguin). Remove the duck skin, cut into slices and reserve separately. Cover to keep duck meat moist.

8. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

9. Remove the pork skin, unroll, and slice into smaller pieces. Line a 3 – 3 ½ quart casserole with the sliced pork skin, fat side down. (The classic clay cassole is conical, so the wide end at top allows a large surface; use a pot with a good surface area to create a crust.) Put duck meat on top of that. Remove leek, thyme and celery from the beans and transfer beans to the pot, straining out and saving the liquid/juices.

10. Skim the fat from the juices and add some of the juices to the meat to just cover the beans, reserving the remaining juices to add as needed. Add the optional herbs and spices. Taste for salt and add more if needed.

11. Cover the dish with foil and cook 20 minutes.

12. Remove the foil. Spoon off the fat (about a cup). Add only enough juices from the reserved cooking liquid to keep the beans moist.

13. After an hour, remove the foil and sprinkle the Armagnac over the surface, then push down to blend. Check the beans to see if they need more liquid. Put it back in the oven and allow a crust to form, which takes about 30 minutes.

14. Take care not to put in too much of the stock - better to leave a 1 cup or so in reserve and use it if it looks too dry. You want it to be creamy - not soupy.

15. If you have too much liquid, break the crust, push down and add at least another 20 minutes to the cooking time.

16. Cook the reserved duck skin in a cast iron pan until crisp. Sprinkle cassoulet with reserved duck skin crisps and serve.


Sorry to those of you who are having trouble commenting... it seems blogger is having issues that they are working on.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer begins with Lilac Jelly and Croissants in a Little Corner of heaven (Vermont)

Vermont Twilight

I have a tradition on Memorial Day weekend.  For quite a few years I’ve been going to Vermont to Trev and Kathy’s farm. 

It’s a wonderful place, warm and comfortable and full of remarkable collections of interesting artifacts,  lots of room for guests (with an extra small house to catch overflow) and a consistently interesting group of friends to share it with.  They are perfect hosts.  

For me, between gardening and cooking…well, it is a great vacation because, honestly, if we aren’t preparing food or eating it we are talking about it and the kitchen was rarely idle during the 7 days I spent there. 

The grills and smokers were always being readied or being used to smoke or sear, with the grill master Trev, effortlessly preparing: smoked duck breast, ribs, steaks, salmon and pork belly (for Momofuku buns… OMG) as well as chicken for Kath’s best spicy chicken salad ever (I’ll share that with you soon!).  There were rhubarb pies and upside down cakes and tres leche cakes and mango sorbet and made a 100-odd year old recipe for a boozy Sorbet Cardinal and… well we ate like kings.

We also visited a neighbor and farmer, Doug Densmore at his farm over the holiday.  We dug (well, she dug and I lugged) ramps (to go in a roasted asparagus risotto… num), and peeked at the new calf in the field gamboling with all of his older cattle pals.  All of them were leading wonderful grass-fed lives as they dined effortlessly in rolling, insanely lush green pastures.

We visited the newly arrived little piglets… happily rooting in the dirt and schnerfling down their milky lunch.  And I got a souvenir from my visit –– a ½ gallon of hearty B-Grade and a pint of his sublime Fancy maple syrup –– so good that swanky Brooklyn eateries are importing it for their pancakes, waffles and desserts (he ships anywhere - give him a call at Densmore Family Sugarhouse 802-685-3862). He is part of a long family line of farmers.  He’s passionate about his heritage and his work, and just the kind of person you would want growing your food… he does everything the right way. We need to support this kind of family farm (and he makes great syrup at a great price… so no sacrifice to do it).

After I finished my yearly weeding of the asparagus patch (and paid for it by becoming a perfect candidate for an extra on a bad 50’s mutant movie thanks to 1000 black fly bites), I set to making another batch of Lilac Jelly.  I had made a tiny batch last year from a recipe I’d seen and saved from Michael Ruhlman’s site.  It was a recipe from an Alaskan baker named Carri and just loved it.  Floral jellies are as old as can be and recipes like it can be found in antique English cookbooks (sans the pectin of course!). I handed it out to my perfume pals, shipped it out to Sarah in Canada and to my favorite scent goddess, Mandy Aftel at Aftelier.  It was a hit with everyone.  At its heart is a nectary note that is delicate and elegant.  It would be great on berries or trifles or…. Croissant!  I made a pure pig of myself and poured it into a dish and dunked the croissant and when that was gone I used my finger to get every last drop… EVIL!  

I think you’ll find the jelly with the croissants  (made with a sexy tease of duck fat) will take you away from the hustle of the world and let you find a moment’s serenity as you breath country Spring air, perfumed with lilacs and the buttery scent of baking… Heaven.

Lilac Jelly from Carri’s Recipe

2 ½ c apple juice or pear juice or white wine or champagne- I was even thinking plain water would work.  I decided that the wine/champagne or water was the best... the flower flavor came through better
2 cup packed fresh petals…no stems… this is a little tedious but worth it.
4 c sugar (I used organic… I like the flavor)
½ cup lemon juice
1 package pectin for syrup like consistency, 3 oz for thicker jelly

Scald the liquid and add the petals.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temp and strain (I thought for the best flavor, the time to remove the petals was when it was warm… so check… it can get a little bitter if you wait too steeping fine tea.)

Add 2 cups of the liquid, the sugar and lemon and boil over high heat

When sugar has dissolved and there is a rolling boil,  add the pectin and stir vigorously to blend, being sure to scrape the bottom.

Pour into sterilized jars.

PS  if you want color.. add a little red wine.. It is golden and not purple in the least although some dark lilacs will add a bit of pink to it. 

 Croissants with a touch of Duck Fat

8 oz butter, softened
3 T duck fat
8 oz milk
½ oz yeast
1 T sugar
1 ½ t salt
14 oz (2 ½ to 3 cups) bread flour
1 egg, mixed

Roll the butter out to a flat square, about 8” and refrigerate.

Scald the milk let cool and add the yeast, sugar and  duck fat and salt. Then add the flour slowly and knead a little.  Roll it into a rectangle and chill. Remove from the fridge, flour your board (with each turn)lay out the dough and place the butter on about 2/3 of the dough.  Fold the extra dough over it like a letter and roll it out as a rectangle. Fold it again as a letter and put in the fridge to chill at least ½ an hour.   Remove and roll again and fold.  Do this 3 more times… allowing the rest between each turn. I always kept the folded side to the right but I don't know if this is necessary like it is with puff pastry. I let the dough rest overnight, but you don’t have to. 

Roll it out into a rectangle and then cut into long triangles about 6” long… I read somewhere it should resemble the Eiffel Tower. There will be 10-12) 

Tug at the long end to lengthen, take a small notch out of the middle of the thick end and place the little piece of dough you’ve just cut plus a bit of leftover dough (size of a small marble?) just above the notch then roll them up from the fat end and place on a parchment-lined pan after tugging the ends to form a crescent.

Let rise in a moist place –– this is important –– I  sprayed the underside of the pan I was using as a cover.

When they are puffed up nicely, use egg wash gently on the pastries.  Put them into a 425º oven with a small plate of boiling water at the bottom and lower the temp to 400º for 10 minutes.  After that, turn the pan and cook at 375º for another 10 minutes or until they are golden brown.

***I must thank my friend Ken Albala for inspiring me to make croissants... they aren't hard at all... he was soooo right.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!