Monday, December 13, 2010

Pinot Noir Pairs

Thanksgiving is but a distant memory now, a pleasant one mind, who wouldn't enjoy spending that special holiday with good friends sitting around a big oak table (heavenly chandelier above) and a view of the Atlantic. Our hostess has a very attractive quality; she's a great cook but she is also completely unflappable, she casually prepares tasty canapes, makes the gravy, mashes the potatoes and fries her delicious artichokes with a kitchen full of rowdy guests with not so much as a furrowed brow. This year she also made roasted kale, we devoured the earthy, crispy treat in between sips of champagne.

So I have been on a kale quest lately, surprisingly it is sold in our local supermarket (produce not its strong point, but I won't hear a bad word against our funny little IGA!) I have also been experimenting with dishes that go well with our Pinot Noir; recently I made a turkey risotto with mushrooms and sage (still going strong in the garden) and back in October when I picked my cranberries in the dunes I made a spicy ginger, cranberry and Pinot Noir sauce, and added a little dollop to the risotto, all the elements worked well with the Pinot; creamy, earthy and tangy with a hint of perfume from the sage. Cranberries go surprisingly well with Pinot because of the tartness, (a very sweet fruit sauce would not be such a happy union) a great way to get a sauce to pair well with Pinot is to well........add some Pinot.

Pinot Noir is a very versatile food wine, it is capable of handling a wide range of flavors, you can drink it with your turkey and your grilled fish and of course lamb, duck is a winner. Kale has an earthy, velvety quality, add the smokiness of the bacon and you have a good Pinot pairing. I served the kale dish with steak, some would say a heavier wine is required for beef, but hey, it all tasted pretty darn good, I think we should eat the foods we like and drink the wines we like and not be too dogmatic about such matters, most of us are too busy to worry about getting that perfect match, but, there are of course some spectacular pairings..........

I am a huge mushroom fan, it's a 'meaty' vegetable (good for the vegetarians at the table) and when paired with Pinot it's a magical match made in heaven; earthy and luscious; a sensual affair. As this will be a regular feature (Pinot Noir Pairs) expect to see some sexy fungi dishes from my repertoire.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maples And Plums

The two maples in the garden are about to enter a restful period after putting on a spectacular grand finale, last week the Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' was shimmering the cleanest, purest, yellow, its brilliance made me smile as I caught flashes of it through the mullions, a reminder of how much I love this season of exuberance and decay, now it is receding to hues of burnt gold, singed umber and sepia on the edges, soon its pretty frock will lie crumpled and faded on the garden floor, but wait! this tree has a glorious resurrection and will reveal its striking naked red frame to the frigid air and will maintain a festive complexion throughout the winter. The other maple, Acer palmatum 'atropurpureum' is living up to its name but there are also ruby reds and glowing ambers all fired up for the final flourish.

Deep purple plums (figs are good too) nestled in a sweet golden batter, a dessert for fall if ever I saw one. I make a lot of clafoutis, it's my reliable dessert, the one I make confidently and the one that can be made with any fruit (savory ones are good too) that happens to be in season. After a dinner of roasted lamb chops, Jansonn's temptation, green beans with hazelnut oil and roasted red peppers, we sat beside the roaring fire with our friends and ate slices of clafoutis with cardamom cream, the NZ'er makes a good fire; there's a lot of preparation, but I like to add the occasional carefully selected log and do a bit of prodding while daydreaming about gypsies and fires. Ahhhh, another evening in Montauk replete with stories and good cheer and the warmth and magic of the fire. 

Plum Clafoutis
Adapted from a recipe - Potager by Georganne Brennan

about 8-10 medium sized plums
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup marsala wine (I have also used maraschino)
2 tablespoons water

1 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup all purpose flour

Halve plums and in a saucepan bring brown sugar, marsala and water to a boil until a medium thick, brown syrup forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the plums, let them soak for about 30 minutes, turning them over once. Preheat oven to 350f, butter a round baking dish that is at least 1 1/2 inches deep and 12 inches diameter. Make batter by combining all ingredients in electric mixer and beat for about 5 minutes or until mixture is frothy. Lift figs from syrup with a slotted spoon and place in baking dish, pour batter over figs and bake in oven until puffed and brown and a knife inserted comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Turn The Beet Around

Now is the time for the comfort of old-fashioned food, fires in the evening and serious games of Scrabble; a time for hunkering down and settling into the slow change from fall to winter. A chilly snap last week had me baking up a storm; cauliflower soup, pear and cranberry bread pudding, a toffee apple sauce, apple and lemon verbena jam, slow roasted beets and local roasted spuds with sage. I embrace the quietness of the cooler months, walks with friends, hats and gloves and a big pot of soup bubbling away on the stove. Potato dishes such as Jansson's temptation will be made with great regularity providing us with the starchy sustenance that we need and desire as the nights draw in.

The trees are doing their brilliant kaleidoscopic fall presentation and my cimicifuga is flowering at the bottom of the garden, it's looks a little bit spooky at night, the white flowers shifting about behind a birch tree, but during the daytime they take on a comical pipe cleaning brush quality, anyway when they flower I know that Halloween and Thanksgiving are just around the corner. 

But it feels like spring out there, it's positively balmy, the heat has us all a bit confused; one feels like getting the flip flops out again along with that chilled bottle of rosé, but to be truthful I really can't get quite as enthusiastic as my fellow Montaukians about an Indian summer in October; I have replaced floppy hats with furry ones and light cotton fabrics with wool (and possum) all the summer clothes have been packed up along with the idea of that 'last swim' and I am ready for cold temperatures and piping hot food.

The hearty beet is perfect for roasting, the addition of these spices not only fills the kitchen with wonderful exotic aromas but adds a festive touch to this often neglected root vegetable, the skin falls away easily revealing the crimson jewel-like flesh, a feast for the eyes and the belly. We had ours with lamb chops, a creamy potato gratin, mushrooms cooked with anchovies and sherry and of course a few glasses of our 2008 Stonecrop Pinot Noir.

Roasted Beets with Spices

4 medium beets, quartered
spices - I used cloves, cardamom, cumin, allspice and turmeric
(nutmeg, chilli pepper coriander can also be used)
olive oil, maldon sea salt, freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400f, put the beets in foil (double layer) sprinkle on the spices, salt and pepper and olive oil, close foil at edges and roast for about 45 minutes or until tender. The skin peels off easily but wear gloves unless you desire cerise fingers for Halloween.

Note to NZ'er - there is no such word as looky.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Season Of Plenty

The land and sea have been generous; cranberries were picked in the dunes, pears were gathered roadside, bluefish were caught and smoked, the NZ'er caught a big striper surfcasting down at the Point, we have been harvesting bowls of big beef tomatoes and there's no shortage of herbs especially sage which I was able to supply to a friend with a restaurant who needed it desperately for her gnocchi.  

There have been some surprises in my garden; in the Spring I divided one sanguisorba and rather haphazardly planted it in various locations, now in October the garden is dotted with the beautiful droplets of blood-red flowers. A pale lemon pineland hibiscus with a deep burgundy center volunteered itself in my herb garden, what a special treat to discover it growing between the shiso. The Rosa glauca (love those hips) appeared after a two year absence, in a different spot. The lemon verbena is positively tree-like and I have been making tea with its deeply fragrant leaves. The toad lily (tricyrtis hirta) has been blooming for months it seems, as has the erigeron in the cracks of the stone path, but the longest bloomer in the garden has been the gaura, I love this little gem of a plant, it gently waves its fairy wand in the cooling Montauk breeze and mischievously continues to twinkle as others are fading and leaves are falling. As dusk approaches the tiny flowers magically light up the garden, I desire a meadow of it.

A friend told me about a pear tree in a Montauk garden, it sits on the edge of the property and right now the pears are falling, they conveniently fall on to the footpath (and not so conveniently on the road) the owners of the tree do not seem too concerned about harvesting the fruit, I hate to see good fruit go to waste or even worse become fruity roadkill on route 27, so I took a bucket and got me a hefty load of local pears.

Pear and Cranberry Chutney
Pears from Montauk - Cranberries from Napeague

about a cup of cranberries
4 pears peeled and chopped 
grated fresh ginger (I used about a 1/4 cup)
1 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
my choice of spices - a pinch or two of ground star anise and a pinch of five spice powder, you can use cinnamon or cloves, for a more traditional taste.

Put everything in a large saucepan, bring to boil then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes, or until pears and cranberries are soft.

You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things.
Walt Whitman

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Zealand Egg Burger

Back in the late 70's when the NZ'er was at uni (university) he used to frequent Gibb's Burger Bar in Palmy (Palmerston North) he would play Space Invaders with the Aggie's (Agricultural students) grab an egg burger and then head off in the ute (utility vehicle) to a party. Every single word is abbreviated in New Zealand - I have a theory, it's a way of speaking without a hint of seriousness, a way to keep things light and easy........anyway back to the egg burger. 

Montauk is all about seafood but sometimes a burger really hits the spot and this summer I sampled some good ones; the Navy Beach burger has a delicious bacon 'marmalade' and The Gig Shack on Main Street makes a mighty juicy bison burger, these are very fine burgers indeed, but for me nothing quite beats the strange combination of a fried egg on top of beets and meat; the New Zealand egg burger. It works best if the beets are tinned and in my opinion the egg should be only slightly sunny-sided over, of course many sauces can be added, in the absence of ketchup (on Labor day) we used my homemade brown sauce and mayonnaise, we also shoved in a slice of homegrown tomato and a piece of crisp lettuce. It's a mammoth of a burger with a riot of flavors and one that requires a lion's roar for that first bite - not for the dainty eater.

I cheated and bought my burgers from Gosman's Market, my favorite place to shop for groceries in the summer, they have the freshest flipping fish, top quality cuts of meat and the cheese selection is fantastic (Humboldt Fog) it's our own little slice of gourmet heaven down at the docks. 

New Zealand Egg Burger

tinned beets
mayonnaise/ketchup/brown sauce
fried egg

If making the burgers from scratch use good quality ground meat such as Angus beef and be sure to add Worcestershire sauce to the mix. I used brioche rolls from Gosman's, they are oversized and accommodate all the fillings, they are even better when slightly toasted on the grill, kaiser rolls or ciabatta would work just as well. The all important egg; fry it to your liking but make sure you know your dinner guests well if you're going for the runny version!

The Stacking Order
Put mayonnaise on the bottom bun followed by lettuce, then the burger followed by tomatoes then the beets followed by the egg, then your choice of ketchup/brown sauce, put the other bun on top of the stack and open wide. Choice.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Sad Journey To A Beautiful Winter

I left Montauk on a 90 degree day, it was one of many this Summer, good for the hamlet and good for the tomatoes, a day later I arrived in New Zealand to a cooler temperature and much sadness. My Mother-in-Law died suddenly on July 12th, she was a vibrant 77 year old and I don't think she ever had an idle moment in her life. There would be no Stonecrop without her (and her husband Denis), she weeded, moved rocks, planted trees, kept the books, made the lunch, attended every important event at the vineyard, harvest time, meetings about irrigation, the list is endless and she did all of this in addition to taking care of grandchildren, visiting friends and family in need, volunteering for various groups in her community, she never forgot a birthday or anniversary..... and there were many, each year many cards and letters were thoughtfully and beautifully written and posted to various destinations around the world.
Margaret lived on the Parewanui Road just outside of Bulls and it is here she created a magnificent garden which she lovingly tended to for over 37 years, it is lush with native New Zealand trees and shrubs, she loved her rose garden and she had special roses that came from her father's garden.
She had lemon trees, tangerine trees, a feijoa bush that my husband planted in 1981 and a huge fig tree.
Margaret made an assortment of delectable goodies with the bounty from her garden; jams and chutneys, damson gin, stewed Washington apples and she made the most memorable and exquisite cakes.
People in New Zealand are very generous with food and this generous spirit is overflowing after a terrible loss, after the funeral family and friends gathered back at Parewanui Road, there were hearty pumpkin soups, pies and date loaves, meals were put in the freezer in the garage; chicken casseroles, lamb and potatoes, pikelets, egg and bacon pie, this was all done quietly without any fuss or anyone wanted to take credit, just with kindness.
It was Winter but there were flowers blooming in her garden; stunning camellias, large pink ones and dramatic reds, erigeron was sitting pretty at the front of the border, there were lemons and tangerines on the trees. Gardening continues in New Zealand during the Winter unlike here where we shut up shop, it can be a bit chilly but not 'hats and gloves' chilly. Early morning after a frost is particularly beautiful; looking out of the kitchen window - a diamond dusting over the hinoki tree and the lawn leading out to the paddock past the pohutukawa tree.
I have long been excited about gardening in New Zealand and especially with native plants; muehlenbeckia, corokia cotoneaster, (New Zealand has more divaricating plants than any other country) Marlborough daisy, Chatham Island forget-me-nots, puka, rengarenga, hebes, coprosma, and then there are the magnificent trees; totara, rimu, kauri, kowhai, karo, pohutukawa, rata, manuka, lancewood, coprosma, puriri, to name a few. These are the ones I have become familiar with over the years, from visiting gardens like Otari in Wellington, my friend Wendy's stunning garden in Blenheim and our own native garden that Margaret and Denis started for us at the vineyard.
For many of us who love to garden it's a place to find peace and solace, it's also a special place to be close to our loved ones who spent years digging in the dirt, moving this plant 'here' and that plant 'there' watching a seedling become a mighty tree, anticipating the blooms on a favorite shrub, scratching that persistent itch - the joy of gardening.
Before I left to return to Montauk we spotted two Tui's in the puriri tree, Denis told me 'they pair for life'.
See you in the garden Margaret.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Tarty Grosart

I planted a gooseberry bush about six years ago, waited patiently and just observed the little hairy berries each year, this year I had enough for jam. The gooseberry has always been popular in England for fools and pies and as a sauce to accompany oily fish such as mackerel (the French call it groseille a maquereau, the mackerel currant) the Scots favor it too and apparently it grows in abundance in the Shetland islands and the Orkneys. I am awfully fond of the sharp green berry, we had bushes in our garden in England and so did my Grandparents, I still remember picking them through the thorns as they'd bobble about on the straggly branches, there was something a little bit spooky about them; the tiny hairs, the transparent flesh revealing the insides, then came the popping in the mouth, the crunch, the shocking release of tartness! 

Gooseberries are high in pectin so they are perfect for jam and green ones make the best. As you can tell from the photo I left mine on the branches too long but the jam was good, not as tart, maybe a bit more plummy, but still tasty and a pretty pink color too. The following recipe will also appear in Edible East End Magazine in the September issue along with a lovely picture of the jam taken by my friend, the photographer Ellen Watson.

I think I have the only gooseberry bush in Montauk, some were spotted at a farm stand in Sagaponack, I'll have to start recruiting fool lovers in Montauk. They grown so well here, gooseberries, I mean.

Montauk Gooseberry Jam

a quantity of gooseberries 
the same quantity of sugar

Wash and top and tail the gooseberries, put in a heavy based saucepan with water not quite covering, simmer for 15 minutes until fruit becomes soft but still holding shape, add sugar and stir until dissolved, bring to a boil for about 10 minutes, then test for setting; put a small amount of the mixture on a saucer that has been chilled in the freezer; allow to cool; the mixture should be thick and jammy and with a skin when pushed with the finger; continue boiling if it's not thick enough and repeat setting test.

Cool and transfer to sterilized jars and refrigerate. 

You sit on the veranda drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and everything smells good. . . and there are gooseberries.' Anton Chekhov

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Rosy Outlook

Watermelon is the ultimate summer fruit, nothing quenches the thirst quite like a chilled slice of the sweet, crunchy, watery (85%) fruit. About a month ago I was chopping the rind off a watermelon for a watermelon, feta and black olive salad (see below) and remembered seeing a pickled watermelon rind recipe in one of my books (Stephanie Alexander) so I got pickling, the process is a bit fiddly, but I love the idea of being able to use the entire fruit. After a month of pickling in a sugary clovey bath the white fleshy rind along with the pickled lemons were finely chopped and added to the following recipe, which would also work just as well without the 'pickled' element; there was something just a little bit too christmassy about the taste, (for a 90 degree day) it must have been the cloves, nonetheless it was tasty and zesty.

watermelon salsa
Red, white and blue - watermelon, cucumber and borage flowers, add a splash of white balsamic vinegar, some mint and you have yourself a refreshing little Independence Day salsa!

July 4th was a scorcher of a day here in Montauk and it looks as though the heat will be sticking around for a while. Here are a few other simple but refreshing and cooling watermelon dishes for hot summer days.

watermelon gazpacho
combine chunks of cucumber, red pepper, watermelon, add parsley and basil, a splash of red wine vinegar, some sea salt and extra virgin olive, serve very chilled.

watermelon with feta cheese and black olives
cut the watermelon into bite size pieces and assemble on the plate with cubes of feta and black (I prefer kalamata) olives. These flavors work so well together; the cooling sweetness of the watermelon, the saltiness of the cheese and the fruitiness of the olives. 
It can be served as a salad or as a dramatic pre-dinner snack.

watermelon with feta cheese and lemon zest olive oil
cut watermelon into small wedges and top with feta, squish the cheese with a knife so that it's firmly in place then top with a tiny drizzle of olive oil and lemon zest.

watermelon and ginger beer
add ginger beer to pureed watermelon for a refreshing summer drink.

Monday, June 21, 2010

First Of The Season

Long time no post - weeding, sowing, planting, edging, mowing, hence the dirty fingernails, dodgy back and the large gap between posts. Other things have been neglected too - there is wood to carve and let's not forget the business to run - getting up early helps. I am trying to get into a routine of doing the gardening chores early in the morning and early in the evening in an effort to free up the rest of the day for more pressing activities. The dog has to be content with playing ball in the back yard as getting to the beach doesn't seem to happen as frequently in summer as it does in winter, she does have her own pool though; a cast-iron tub, perfect for cooling off after hours of lounging......I need to teach that dog more tricks, like how to use a hoe.

Last night we had striped bass, it was the first catch of the season for the NZ'er and hopefully not the last, it was as usual delicious, we also pulled the first of the salad greens. It really did feel like summer in Montauk - we were sitting outside without long sleeves, the stone patio dotted with an array of sandy flip flops was still warm from the day's rays and as we dined we listened to the strangely comforting sound of 'Mustang Sally' coming in waves from Nick's bar in town. We did 'cheers' to our meal of 'firsts'.

'Oysters' I exclaimed to my husband, he agreed (it's a rarity) I have eaten many borage flowers in my time and I recall more of a celery flavor, but the flowers I put in our salad last night tasted of the sea, what a strange delight! We ate some more to be sure.... yup, 'oysters' - This surprise taste got me thinking; a small plate of borage served with a glass of Muscadet, wouldn't that be an interesting summer appetizer? especially for people who don't/won't/can't eat oysters....I can't imagine. Or a borage fritter? The possibilities seem endless.
I do like the borage flower in the vegetable garden, it's one of those special delicate sapphire blues, comfrey is the same, but they both have a thuggish habit, they need a lot of   room.
I was asked to write a piece about my garden and fishing and cooking by the publisher of 'On Montauk' a little gem of a booklet for folks taking a break in Montauk, it's in the latest issue, another first....published author! Apparently I am overly generous with the comma, the truth is I am not a writer, I am a sculptor, a gardener, vineyard owner, probably some other things too, but I do like to write, I really do even though I am not sure about when to use a colon or a semicolon: but I am learning.

Stay tuned for tomatoes and gooseberries.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Summer And Stonecrop

We have fired up the barbie and put the umbrella up, summer is almost here and soon we'll be eating the delicious Montauk striped bass, perfect timing as our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is now on the shelves. After a winter of cooking hearty soups and stews I am ready for crisp, clean and zesty food and a much repeated simple summer dinner in our house is pan-fried striped bass served with fat slices of tomatoes and mesclun from the garden, no frills, no fuss. Tomatoes dominate our vegetable garden - we do fuss over them because we have had some spectacular failures, last year I harvested about three, but 2009 wasn't a good year for tomatoes, it was however a great year for our grapes.

This year's Stonecrop harvest was a happy event, the rain held off and we had exceptional fruit; both the sauvignon blanc and the pinot noir and a very good picking crew, even the loading of bins occurred without incident - oh, the stories we could tell.

Having a foot in both hemispheres we are constantly connected to the changing and opposite seasons, we monitor wind and rain, the heat and the frosts. In the summertime when we are picking tomatoes, cutting herbs and pulling mesclun from our Montauk garden, thousands of miles away in Martinborough on Dry River road at our Stonecrop vineyard, the vines will be pruned and then all will be quiet for a while during the winter months. Then when it's bakery hot here in August there's a chilly wind blowing through Martinborough coming from the cold southerly Tasman sea and when we are blanketed in snow here in Montauk the grapes are ripening and glistening in the late New Zealand autumn sun.  
Summer in Montauk for us is about fishing, barbequing, tomatoes, salad greens, flowers and herbs - going to the beach early in the morning before the crowds, although one can always find a beautiful deserted beach in Montauk in the middle of summer in the middle of the day, it just requires a bit of a hike. Most of all summer for us is about sharing fresh food and our wine with friends; Montauk friends, city friends, faraway friends.

And the stories - it's all in the bottle - the handpicked grapes, the seasons, the blood, sweat and tears and the love of the land.

Note: The picture of the tomatoes was taken in 2007 - it was a good year for tomatoes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Blooming Good Time

The shads are flowering early this year, last week the one in my backyard was a bare-naked winter tree and now it is donning a pretty white bonnet. To see the landscape packed with shads is breathtaking - gentle clouds of white and restful hues of green, a beautiful spring tapestry quietly rolling over the hamlet. A friend has a party every year to celebrate the blooming shads and the view from her deck is spectacular; high up on the hill, shads as far as the eye can see, all the way down to the water. Celebrations for blooms, for seasons, for the kind of party, my dad used to have a potato party - the potato barrels were emptied in front of an enthusiastic and rowdy crowd, sometimes there was a glut but more often just a few measly spuds were unearthed (much applause and cheers) anyway it was always a good party, and potatoes seemed like a good enough reason for a knees-up.

I made deviled eggs for the shad party, I wanted to make something jolly looking and spring-like, my fellow shad lookers approved.

This is a beautiful piece about the shads in Montauk written by Hilary Ostlere.

Deviled Eggs

10 hard boiled eggs
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
a couple of splashes of lea and perrins
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
a splash of fish sauce
salt and black pepper
cut chives
smoked paprika

Cut the eggs in half and gently remove the yolks into a bowl, mix in the remaining ingredients, (except the chives and paprika) until you have a smooth and creamy paste, spoon mixture back into the hollowed egg whites, add the chopped chives and sprinkle  with smoked paprika.

A note about smoked paprika - I am going to sound like Simon and Minty on 'Posh Nosh' (love them!) but.....I used hot smoked paprika from Le Vera region of Spain, it really is exceptional, oaky and smokey without knocking your socks off - Kalystan's in New York have a vast selection of smoked paprika.

These little devils are divine with champagne and pretty good with Stonecrop 2009 Sauvignon Blanc too - more about the new vintage in the next post.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Sunny Disposition

Everywhere there are spangles of daffodils and electric explosions of forsythia, and golden flames of spirea. April in the garden is mostly about yellow, but many people are not fond of this primary color with its negative associations: when something 'yellows' like old paper, or teeth, and of course jaundice and cowardice, some associate it with madness. I happen to like it, all hues and shades, egg yolks, chicks, butter and cream, old-fashioned primulas. I probably wouldn't wear a yellow dress or sweater, yellow's a difficult color for most people to wear close to the face, but a pair of pants, or shoes or boots, ooooh, yes. I have a pale primrose bag which comes out of the closet at the first sign of spring, along with a canary yellow pair of cordouroys (not worn at the same time though). 

The witch hazel flowered in January and is still blooming in April, it sighs into spring with its spidery blooms and whispers that warmer days are ahead and then the forsythia positivley yells that Summer is coming! I must admit that the screaming yellow of forsythia for me, has to be at a distance in the garden, I don't want it standing too close to me whilst talking loudly. I like forcing some branches to have inside, it is more elegantly restrained in a vase. I do like what my neighbor does with his; they are trimmed into perfectly round balls and sit on the lawn like gigantic pom poms about to roll off down the hill. Then there are the daffodils, giggling, gaggles, of them nodding their little bonnets, still looking cheery when the wind howls, and bites your face.

Note: When I wrote this just the 'yellows' were out in the garden - before I was able to post this my computer was stolen - I purchased another computer (groan) a week has passed, or more, and there is much more activity in the garden......the beautiful delicate green chenille catkins of Harry Lauder's walking stick, and the epimediums I adore the tiny flowers on this spring flowering perennial, they are the faeries at the bottom of the garden. Spring is such an exciting time in the garden, some things are eager to push through the dirt, others take a more leisurely approach, as a gardener I am watching everything and wondering if 'this or that' made it through - my obsession this spring? my beautiful apricot foxgloves, I spy one making it's return, but I had hoped for a big gathering.....early days yet.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Homemade Brown Sauce

As I was flicking through my cookbooks on a Saturday evening (just by way of a change) I came across a recipe in Fleur's cookbook, Fleur's Place is an internationally renowned restaurant on the north Otago coast of NZ - it was cod with a homemade brown sauce - I had some cod, store bought this time, but Montauk fresh, and I was excited about making the tangy sauce, I love making sauces and this is a great one to have on hand, it's similar to the much loved breakfast sauce from across the across the pond, the one with the Houses of Parliament on the label. We had it with soft-boiled eggs for breakfast the next day before a hard days work in the garden. 

There was a great deal of pruning, some light, but some seriously heavy lopping off of old privet limbs, which I have recycled and used as a rustic sculptural tomato frame, it does have a use - the ubiquitous privet. Much attention was given to the tomato bed; last year was such a wash-out I think I harvested three tomatoes. We prepared and manured, I intend to have an abundance this summer, a bunch of ruby red, big, bursting, big girl, super boy, super steaky, beefy mortgage lifting tomatoes at the table every night! (actually we prefer big beef) oooooh those tomatoes, they make me fuss and worry in that corner of the garden all summer long! 

I soaked the label off an empty HP bottle and funneled my sauce into it, such an elegant bottle, I am sure it's the same design they've been using since 1896. The bottle takes me back to a gritty Brick Lane (before gentrification) sitting in a really smokey caff with the barrow boys, early in the morning, having taken the short ride on the tube from Hackney to go to the flea market, eating baked beans, fried bread, fried eggs (there was no 'how do you want your eggs' they were just cooked according the to the way the cook cooked them) drinking tea in heavy off-white chipped mugs, only tea, if you asked for coffee they gave you a 'look'. I'm not sure if I did ever shake, shake, shake some more, some of the sauce on my deeply fried breakfast, I was always a bit wary of sauces in caffs, but I do remember the good times in the East End of London, and somehow that bottle reminds me of a certain time and place. I doubt if the greasy spoon caffs are still there, probably been replaced by Costa Coffee or Starbucks. I wonder if there is anything 'Dickensian' left in London anymore, and do the kids know what we mean when we say that?

Homemade Brown Sauce
Adapted from Fleur's recipe
Makes about a cup and a half

2 cups tomatoes chopped
half a cup of cider vinegar
half a cup of malt vinegar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup brown sugar
half a cup of sultanas
1 cup peeled and chopped apples
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 large chopped onion
3 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon five spice powder
1 cup of prunes pitted
3 tablespoons molasses

In a large pan place all the ingredients and bring to the boil while stirring.
Simmer gently for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours until think, adding a little water if needed.

Fleur's recipe instructs you to pass the mixture through a moulis, I put mine in the blender, which worked out just fine.

This sauce is great with fish, eggs of course, sausages are bereft without it, and it goes wonderfully with preceding recipe too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bubble and Squeak

Most Brits are familiar with this breakfast dish, it's basically the use of leftovers from a roast dinner, traditionally cabbage and potatoes, shallow-fried in butter to create a pattie-pancake form, eaten with bacon, sausages and fried eggs, but it's also good with cold ham and pickles, especially piccalilli which this Essex girl is particularly fond of!

It's a dish that was born out of rationing and the Brits were very good at making meals stretch during those lean times, my mother tells of eating bread and dripping, dripping is the fat from the roasted meat. As a result of rationing, a thrifty attitude towards cooking has always been a part of the british culture, I would hear this phrase a lot at meal times 'waste not want not' food was never thrown away if one could make something of it the next day. I am glad I grew up in a time and place where meals were cooked at home and people sat around the table to eat.....with a knife and fork. Of course by the time I went off to college there were a smattering of Wimpy Burger Bars and Pizzalands, which were mildly appealing, but they were lightweight fast food joints and not a major presence on 'Main Street'. Today? well that's another big fat story.

As I mentioned in the previous post I made bubble and squeak to go with roasted cod, (thankfully we have friends here in Montauk eager to get up at the crack of dawn and go March). The last time I made B+S was probably during my bedsit days in London, and believe me there was no fresh cod sitting atop! HP sauce more likely, served with some beans of the 57 variety, cooked on a stove operated on a meter which would always run out of money when the beans were still can-cold......we ate a lot of beans back then. Then there was the landlady with the liberally applied magenta lipstick, peering through a crack in the door.......spooky, but it was all good character building stuff - bedsit land on the Finchley road in the 80's!

Now the thrifty dishes from my homeland have been showing up in New York City with the arrival of the gastropub. The bubble and squeak served with cod idea came from a restaurant in the West Village - Highlands - a charming, cosy restaurant with a Scottish flavor, I am a huge Scotophile and I loved everything on the menu especially the pound of cockles served in a delicious broth. They serve beer in old pint glasses, which had me and my mancunian mate taking a hike down memory lane. 

Bubble and Squeak
More than just a breakfast dish, it's great with fish or ham, we had sunday supper with leftovers from the leftovers and chicken sausages, a green salad and grainy mustard, good simple fare. Any leftover vegetables can be used in this dish, but I think the brussel sprouts are a must.

1 large onion peeled and finely chopped 
leftover cold cabbage 
leftover cold potatoes
leftover cold brussel sprouts 
butter and olive oil 
salt and pepper.
Heat oil and butter in a frying pan, add chopped onion and cook gently for 3-4 minutes until softened. Mix in the cabbage, potatoes and brussel sprouts and stir over a high heat, make a thick pancake form, mashing the vegetables together and heat through, scraping up any crispy bits from the bottom of the pan.

My mother was a young girl living in Norwich during the Second World War, I asked her what dishes/food she remembered eating during rationing and what she missed the most, this was her response - Well now, rabbit ....pies..stewed..roast. We kept rabbits, that was the norm. Steamed meat suet puddings, beef if it was available (suet you could get from butcher in a lump, not shredded like today) Bread and dripping. A winter dish was boiled onions in white sauce (something I still do occasionally) Fish and chips once a week. All vegetables from the garden...veg soup, bubble and squeak. 

I missed cakes the most and bread and butter pudding. Butter, sugar cheese and dried fruit were almost non existent. Tea time consisted of sandwiches, jam when it was available, toast and paste. Sunday tea we would have bread and shrimps. Ice cream was a once a year treat. We were lucky to have fresh peaches. Poppy grew a peach tree which kept us supplied, apart from that, fruit was rare unless you were lucky to have apple trees and we didn't. 

I suppose the one thing I remember well, was making our own cheese and butter. The cream taken off the milk and put in kilner jar till about 3/4 full, then shaken for days to make butter, sour milk was put in muslin to hang until it was consistent enough for cheese. So at the end of the day, as I said earlier cakes I missed most. Sweets, well....... what were they!