Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Scotney Castle and Cherry Coupe with Cherry Rose Cookies

My monthly cooking club Creative Crew’s challenge this month was to make a one-color dish.  This being the beginning of summer, it got me thinking of cherries.  I discovered when I first wrote about cherries (HEREthat Kent was the epicenter of English cherry growers and has been since Henry VIII’s time when he took to having them grown in Teynam in Kent after being wowed by them during a visit to Flanders –– when a king falls for cherries he gets cherries.  Cherries were not new to the British Isles since legend has it that Roman legions dropped sour cherry pits (a product of Persia) as they tromped through Britain and so they had been growing nearly wild there for a millennia. A Kentish Red was the first cherry planted by Massachusetts’ colonists.

Photo by Chris Theater (can be purchased HERE)

I decided at the last minute to go over to England next week and travel for a week after going to the Oxford Food Symposium. Such a conundrum –– there are so many places I’d love to see and so little time –– some are just a bit too far afield for a tight schedule. How to decide? Cherries got me to thinking about great places in Kent and noodling around in my handy National Trust Guide I discovered Scotney Old Castle in the cherry capitol of Kent –– it’s a fairytale looking place with a magnificent garden.  I thought if anything would get me in the mood to create a red cherry dish, this would be the place.

How about a little history of the place? The oldest part of the estate is the adorable squat tower built in the 14th century by Roger de Ashburnham on land owned by Lambert de Scoteni (hence Scotney Castle).  Scotney came into the Darrell family in 1418 through marriage.  They tore down all of the original buildings save the tower and built a house around it in the 16th and 17th centuries. Most of that addition was in ruins and torn down during the building of the new castle in the 19th century.

NYPL-John Miller

The Darrells owned the house for 350 years and then sold it to the Hussey family in 1778 –– they have lived there ever since.  

The old buildings that remain are a charming visual element –– sort of an antique folly for the estate's extensive gardens.  They built the new castle on the hill in 1837 according to an 1878 article by Edward Hussey.  

Anthony Salvin 1799-1881

It was designed by Anthony Salvin who was famous for restoring or working around ancient buildings (like Alnwick Castle).  He was incredibly prolific and worked until he was 90 (he restored 20 churches and 3 cathedrals and built 34 new churches as well as working on private commissions for new places like Scotney)!

He also designed furniture like this 1835 desk for Mamhead House

The new castle is full of Victorian wonders and rooms with winning charms –– love the peachy chairs, the Greek Key desk and that graphic b&w tile surround for the fireplace.

NTPL - Andreas von Einsiedel

NYPL - John Miller
The kitschy kitchen is especially endearing and perfect for helping with inspiration for a delicious cherry dish.

I have wanted to make this cherry pie from Robert May’s Accomplisht Cook for a very long time ––  it wasn’t so much the pie I wanted to make as the filling.  That’s a good thing too because a brown piecrust would be trouble in an all-red world (sadly it wasn't as red as I had hoped, the pink cookies took a brown cast in the oven!).

What appealed about the recipe was the muscadine syrup.  Muscadine is a New World grape.  It would have been a fairly fancy ingredient since the grape had only been discovered by Walter Raleigh and his intrepid band of New World explorers barely 70 years before May was using its syrup (they tried to cultivate the warm-weather grapes in England but were not successful so I imagine the syrup would have been a New World product).  The explorers were terribly impressed with the muscadine grape variety.  

The “Mother Vine” on Roanoake Island, dating from at least the 18th century

Raleigh’s explorers, Captains Amadas and Barlowe wrote in 1584 that North Carolina was “so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them … in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found.”  In 1585, North Carolina Governor Ralph Lane said “We have discovered the main to be the goodliest soil under the cope of heaven, so abounding with  …  grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath no greater… (so said an article at Auman Vineyards). 

I imagine with rave reviews like this, a masterchef like May would have jumped at the chance to add the exotic flavor to his Kentish cherry pie.

No pie?  Well, I thought a coupe would do nicely for an elegant treat of pure cherry goodness using the flavorings in May's cherry recipe.  Then I thought a cherry cookie would do well but when I looked for a recipe I came up short.  All I saw were cookies with chunks of dry cherry or cherry extract or maraschino –– not for me.

So, I made up real sour cherry cookies that are divine with my compote and if not red, at least there's the barest hint of pink.

Enjoy the combination and the yummy muscadine cherries.  Although the syrup is available online it was full of corn syrup (blech!) I did get a sense of the flavor.  Were I to do it again I would probably make my own with muscadine juice (available at healthfood stores) or make it in the fall with the grapes when they are in the markets –– it's easy to do and people rave about grape syrup as a sweetener for fruit pies like apple. By the way,  muscadine grapes and juice are considered a super food screamingly full of vitamins, antioxidants and that lovely resveratrol that keeps you young.

Cherry Coupe based on Robert May's Recipe

4 c pitted cherries
1/2 c sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 t ginger
1/4 c muscadine grape syrup*
1-2 drops Aftelier Rose Essence or 1-2 t rosewater to taste

Cook all ingredients except rose until soften somewhat.  Taste for sweetness, if you want it sweeter add more muscadine/grape syrup.

Serve with cookies and/or with cream or ice cream.

*If you want to use something else, take 2 cups grape juice and 1/2 c sugar and reduce by 1/2
or take 4 c grapes with 1/2 c sugar and 1 t lemon juice and cook slowly till the grapes have dissolved.
Strain the grapes out and check the texture.  If it is too runny, reduce.  If you can't find muscadine, any dark grape will do, especially concords.

Cherry Rose Cookies (makes 3 doz. –– recipe with a little help from Taste of Home Baking)

1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar (I think 1/3 c is better, 1/2 c is very sweet)
2 T brown sugar
1/2 egg
3 T cherry juice from Coupe recipe or from good canned or frozen sour cherries
2 t lemon juice
1/2 t vanilla
1 1/2 plus 2 T flour
1/4 t baking soda
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 c chopped cherries from the Coupe recipe or from good canned or frozen sour cherries
1-2 drops Aftelier Rose Essence or 1-2 t rosewater to taste

Cream the butter and the sugar
Add the egg, cherry and lemon with the beaters running

Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl and mix for a minute.

Add the cherries.

Roll into 2 - 1' logs on plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 4 hours or till hardened

Preheat oven to 375º

Cut each log into 18 cookies and place on cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes until slightly brown around edges.

See the Creative Cooking Crew Pinterest Board HERE

I will be off on a trip for the next few weeks and don't know if I'll be able to post.  Since it was last minute I have nothing in the pipe, as 'twere!

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream Flowers

I have always loved blueberries.  I keep a bag of them in the freezer to have with yogurt or on ice cream and am in heaven when they are in season.  What’s not to love about them?  They are incredibly good for you –– full of manganese, vitamins A, B1, B2, C, niacin, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron, fiber, and antioxidant.  They also have resveratrol, that magic stuff that is supposed to keep you young when you eat it –– you know, the stuff that red wine is rich in.  They’re good for your blood pressure, depression and may even lower cholesterol.  Native Americans called them ‘star berries” and believed the Great Spirit sent star berries to relieve children’s hunger during famine. They made a corn cake with blueberries that the pilgrims probably enjoyed at their first Thanksgiving, according to the Blueberry Council.

Robert Frost wrote a poem about them that began:

"YOU ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"

and ended:

“You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves.”

They are a fabulous color, aren’t they? I love the purple dye that colors the cream a perfect lavender color.


That got me to thinking the other day when I found myself with blueberries and cream in the fridge –– I would make a favorite summer ice cream, blueberry lavender.  No, not just the color but a hint of the flower lavender.  I can’t remember what made me combine them years ago, but I’ve been doing it ever since.  It leaves a lovely fragrance in your mouth after you eat it. You can use lavender flowers or one of my favorite ingredients, Aftelier Lavender Essence that imparts the soul of lavender to the mixture. You can just use scoops or old ice cream molds that make it very special  to look at and delicious.

Remember if you use a mold, just hold the top of the mold for a moment, then pull away the top. Warm your hand for the top and use a warm cloth for the bottom where the detail isn't as important (or your hand after you've warmed it up!).  I used a lobster pick to pop out the bottom.  If you leave it on too long or too warm, you will lose the detail in the mold. Do not run it under hot water (did that the first time and lost all the detail to mush). If you only have a few molds, you can save them in the freezer and keep making more with softened ice cream.  

I have seen silicon molds that come in sheets like cupcakes too (you can see one here: World Cuisine Non-Stick Silicone Mold, Rose) -- they don't have the bottom detail (that you don't see anyway!). I can't tell you the trick to them so you may have to experiment.  Mine was a very heavy old French metal model on a hinge with a top and bottom.

Blue berry Lavender Ice Cream

1 ½ c whole milk
1 ½ c cream
¾ c sugar
4 egg yolks
1 ½ c blueberries
1 T maple syrup
1 t vanilla extract
2-3 drops Aftelier Lavender Essence or 2 T lavender blossoms 
use rose geranium leaves and/or lemon verbena for garnish (optional)

Heat the milk and the cream with ¼ c sugar till sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat.

Beat the yolks with the rest of the sugar until lemony colored and thick.  Pour the hot milk mixture into the bowl, beating all the while.  Clean the pot and return the mixture to the stove, it will be around 150º.  Heat the custard till no more than 180º stirring constantly.

Pour the custard through a strainer, stir in the vanilla and chill.

Puree the blueberries with the maple syrup and the lavender.  Chill.  When chilled, add to the custard mixture and freeze with your ice cream maker

OR, easier...

Use softened vanilla ice cream and add the pureed blueberries and lavender.

OR, easier still

Use softened blueberry ice cream and add lavender

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hip Hip Mornay and Filet of Sole Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi

I discovered Filet of Sole Verdi when I read the description of it in a lovely book Dining with Verdi that I wrote about HERE when I wrote about my friend August's Verdi project and learned about Verdi's connection with great food (read more about the Verdi project, 27, at the end of the post).   The recipe has been asking me to make it ever since.  NO, not asking, demanding (albeit seductively in a come-hitherly way).

I made it a few times with sole and shrimp but I knew I had to break down and get a lobster tail to make it properly.  Also, I had my wonderful D’Artagnan truffles  to make the final necessary addition so obviously the stars aligned for the dish to be made.  All I can say is WOW.  This is one of those knock-your-socks-off dishes you make for magical occasions –– using a touch of truffle oil instead of the truffles makes it an affordable luxury.



At first glance, Escoffier’s recipe is fairly straightforward.  The ingredients to make it work are not difficult to come by.  I’ve made béchamel a zillion times and Mornay Sauce dozens of times.  Thing is, I don’t think I ever looked at Escoffier’s original recipes because when I did, I was in for a shock.

Escoffier’s original béchamel is made with veal!   His white sauce is cooked with pieces of veal for two hours then strained.  Remarkable.  I will try doing it that way one of these days but decided since it was fish that I would go with the simpler, non-veal version. 

Béchamel was named after the Marquis de Béchameil (1630 -1703), of whom Escoffier wrote “After all, if it wasn’t for his divine sauce the Marquis de Béchamel would have been forgotten long ago.” Legend has it that it was invented to sauce dried cod.  It is in Varenne's 1651 Cuisinier Francais made with a veal velouté and cream so Escoffier's version echos the sauce's  velouté ancienne roots (velouté has been around a very long time).

The same was true of the Mornay sauce.  I never knew Escoffier put fumet into the sauce (fumet being stock-based liquid the meat or fish was poached in).  It makes a sublime addition to the pallid, cheesy sauce, giving it a bit of backbone.  

Le Grand Vefour

The sauce was introduced at the Paris restaurant, Le Grand Véfour  (1784 - present) in the 19th century (although it was not mentioned in the 1820 version of Le Cuisinier Impérial so it was a mid-century invention).

That's all pretty straightforward, but the link with the Mornay name is a bit murky. 

Some say it was named for  Philippe, duc de Mornay (1549-1623)  and that the 2 cheeses used in the sauce had something to do with the link and the way he brought two factions together.  That makes no sense to me especially since the sauce wouldn't be around until a few hundred years after Philippe's death –– he wasn't exactly a household name at that point.

Charles de Mornay by Dedreux-Dorcy 

What makes more sense to me is another Mornay –– Charles (1803-78) who would have been a player in the halcyon days of the 2nd Empire (and a diplomat best known for bringing Delacroix along on an 1832 visit to Morocco).

1822 Lawrence portrait of Marguerite, Countess of Blessington (1789-1849)

When I checked in with the Countess of Blessington’s  fun book, The Idler in France (1841) and saw all the references to a dinner circle that included Talleyrand (1754-1838) as a frequent guest when de Morney was present, I can’t help but think that Charles is the inspiration for the sauce.

The countess wrote of de Morney:

"The glass of fashion and the mould of form, 
The observed of all observers."

"I was agreeably surprised to find him one of the most witty, well-informed, and agreeable young men I have ever seen.  Gay without levity, well-read without pedantry, and good-looking without vanity... with a brilliant wit, the sallies of which can "set the table in a roar".

After all, Talleyrand was a world-renowned gourmet and employed none other than Carême as his chef (Carême wrote lovingly about Talleyrand's knowledge of food and his refined tastes).  Doesn't it seem more likely that Mornay sauce was named after a tastemaker of the day who often dined with Talleyrand? 

What the eponymous sauce will give you when added to this dish is luxury, richness and a refined taste that will cause you to reflect on the simple majesty of great tastes and textures in a dish fit for Talleyrand –– or you!

Filet of Sole Verdi (serves 2 main course-4 appetizer)

½ to ¾ lb. filet of sole
1 c fish fumet/stock* 
4 c cooked pasta (don't go too al dente on this, you want it softish to go with the elegant texture of the dish)
1 c cream
2 small lobster tails, shells removed  
1 T butter
2 c béchamel
2 c Mornay sauce
1 large D'Artagnan truffle sliced  and ¼ chopped (optional)
2-3 t  D’Artagnan truffle oil  to taste.
Salt and pepper

Put the fish in the stock on medium heat.  Add a touch of salt and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes per side –– they cook very quickly.  Remove.  Reduce the stock to1/2 a cup.  Pour any juices that have collected from the fish into the reduced fumet.

Warm the cream.  Add the cheeses to the cream. Toss the pasta with the cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Add 2 t of the truffle oil  and some chopped truffle if you are using it and toss just before assembling the dish.

Add the fumet to the Mornay sauce and stir.  Warm it.  It should be thick.

Saute the lobster tails for a few minutes.  They should not be fully cooked.  Chop the smaller end of the tail and add to the pasta.  Slice the fatter end.

Heat the broiler.

Spoon the pasta into the dish.  Lay the sole over 2/3 of the dish. Pour the Mornay sauce  over the sole and tuck the lobster and truffle at the edge of the mornay sauce. Heat the pan on the stove for a few minutes at medium low heat.

Put under the broiler on high for a few minutes.  Pay attention, it goes from perfect to burned in no time.   Remove and top with chopped herbs.  Drizzle with remaining truffle oil.

*(I always freeze bones and shrimp/lobster shells and make this when I have enough to make a quart of stock.  Then freeze it flat and break it off when I need it or freeze in ½ c portions) you could use chicken stock in a pinch


2 c milk
1 small shallot, sliced
1 clove (optional)
3 T butter
2 T flour

Heat the milk and simmer while you melt the butter.  Add the flour to the butter and stir over low heat till all bubbly.  Do not let it brown.  Strain the milk.  Pour the hot milk slowly into the flour mixture, stirring all the while over a medium heat till all the milk is used and the sauce is thickened.  Add the cheeses and set aside.

Mornay Sauce

2 c béchamel
½ c fish reserved fumet
1 c grated Parmesan
1 c grated Gruyere

Add the fumet to the béchamel and reduce a little.  Add the Parmesan and gruyere and stir till smooth.

My great friend, August Ventura (who I wrote about HERE) is hard at work completing his passion project just in time for Giuseppe Verdi's 200th birthday.  It is a provocative and entertaining documentary about the unique opera culture that exists in that culinary capital of Italy, Parma.

Click to see the wonderful 22-minute promo reel HERE   
or visit his website HERE  
and see a fun party for the film HERE 

I encourage all of you film or opera buffs, lovers of all things Italian, and champions of the cause of musical education to support "27" if you can.  Great passions should always be nurtured and supported, don't you think??

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