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Strung out on no food or sleep for 4 days with a 103°F fever, sobbing in front of a well-meaning young doctor who was trying to convince me that life would soon revert to normal, several questions popped into my head. How can the nanny you just hired no show on her very first day? Did he just suggest I have Scarlett Fever? But what I asked was “will I be well enough for Thanksgiving?” Followed closely by “well enough to make pies?” “When is it?” he asked. “Thursday,” I whimpered. “You will be much better by then, if not in good spirits.” The tears started to stream again but this time in gratitude.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. There is no god or presents to make things complicated. It’s about food and warmth and welcome. It’s a day of surrounding yourself with those you love and being thankful. It’s been a long time since my words graced these pages and I figured now is as good a time as any. So much has changed since my last post almost a year ago so much to be grateful for. So here it goes.
I give thanks for the wonderful family I was born into and the one who arrived later down the road. I am thankful for my husband and my two beautiful children, my cat who behaves like a dog and my first cat who taught me that cats could be like that. I am grateful for modern medicine, that I had strep throat and not Scarlett fever, for childcare and back up back up childcare and being able to afford it. I am thankful and amazed by our beautiful new house, being a homeowner is different much like being married. I am grateful to feel at home in London while still longing to be at home in the US. I give thanks that I will spend tonight with wonderful friends and be treated like a host and a guest and be missed by those back home.
For the Piecrust: 500g flour, 250g butter (cubed and cold), pinch of salt, cold water
For the Filling: 6-8 apples, your choice (firm is good), peeled, cored and sliced, not too thin, lemon juice, ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup flour, ¼ packed brown sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg, extra butter, a beaten egg
In a food processor or by hand combine the flour and butter until sandy, add the water until the mixture forms a ball. If in the food processor it will start to come away from the wall. Separate the batch into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap and pop in the fridge while you prepare you filling.
Put all your apples into a bowl with the lemon juice. In another bowl (or not if you don’t feel like it) combine all the dry ingredients. Then combine the two.
Take out your pastry and roll it out. Line the bottom of the tin with one then fill the tin with the apple mixture. Dot with butter and use the other rolled disk to cover the pie. Here you can get as creative as you’d like or just go plain covered. If you use a solid top, make sure to use a knife to create some slits so the steam can escape. Brush with the egg wash.
Pop in a hot oven (180°C, 350°F) covered with tin foil for 25 minutes. Then remove the tin foil for a further 15 minutes.
As humans we are reluctant to change. I am particularly so. I require sameness. I have been known to react poorly to banal, but positive, changes like a refrigerator upgrade or new towels. Alterations to the usual Thanksgiving sweet potato recipe can throw me into a tailspin. Returning home for the holidays, however, all but guarantees a rush of familiar things: blazing fires; dogs; a busy kitchen and Mila.
She is almost always sitting at the kitchen table peeling or chopping something when we arrive and her smile greets you from across the room. Mila has been taking care of our family in one capacity or another for over 30 years. It is she who remembers your favorite meal and prepares it for your arrival; she, who offers unsolicited advice you actually want to hear; and she, whose compliments are truly appreciated as they are earnest and, while heartfelt, infrequent.
This year, however, there was to be no Mila. For the first time in years, she has returned home to the Philippines for Christmas. She left us with a well-stocked freezer but obviously food alone could not prepare us for her absence. As the family gathered in the kitchen to put together Christmas dinner, the words "Where is Mila?" were uttered surprisingly frequently. We hunkered down and pulled together a surprisingly good meal. I know she would be proud.
Arriving home this time, even without Mila, everything seemed to be roughly in order. The cookie jar was noticeably absent but I could live with that. Then somehow it magically reappeared and hopefully I, of course, checked inside: nothing. Our cookie jar is traditionally filled with brownies announcing the arrival of my brother Anthony but has devolved into more of the norm as each member of the family declared them their favorite food. In only seemed correct to restore order and make some brownies.
A quick search of the internet for “best chocolate brownies” provided this recipe from sally’s baking addiction. I also suggest her blog post for some interesting brownie back story. Needless to say, no one was disappointed. Happy Holidays to all. We miss you Mila!
You will need the following:
Melt the butter and chopped chocolate in a medium saucepan on medium heat, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Once done allow to slightly cool for 10 minutes.
Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9x9 inch square baking pan* with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.
Whisk the granulated and brown sugars into the cooled chocolate/butter mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition. Whisk in the vanilla. Gently fold in the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Once combined, fold in the chocolate chips.
Bake for roughly 35 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with only a few moist crumbs when the brownies are done.
Children do strange things. I am not talking about the things they do when they are little and it’s out of their control, I am talking about the weird things they choose to do. I am also not talking about my child but myself and (and I am sorry to bring her down with me) my sister. Our preferred media was not worms or dirt but food. We ate packets of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate dry with a spoon being careful not to inhale at the same time and cause a coughing fit. Similarly, we demanded pots of Kool-Aid mix in our care packages at camp so we could not make Kool-Aid but instead dip our fingers in and lick it off until our index fingers were indelibly stained with the sugary mixture. Like most kids ( I assume), we made concoctions out of the condiments in the fridge from chocolate syrup to BBQ sauce, our earliest attempts at cooking you might say, which always, no matter the ingredients, smelled distinctly of vomit. And then we made each other try it. The worst offence, however, involved the fruit roll-up.
We would peel the sugary goodness from the cellophane and wrap it around our, yet again, index fingers. We would then suck it like a lolly pop until all that remained was a food colouring stained sticky finger. That is, unless we fell asleep first or something equally gross. I distinctly remember sitting in the bath with my pointer finger resolutely in the air, so as not to “mess up” my fruit roll-up. At one point, they introduced cut-outs which made the process a little trickier but we remained undeterred.
Fruit roll-ups are therefore both gross and packed with sugar but homemade fruit leather? A different story all together. The product of yet another attempt to preserve my seemingly unending glut of apples: apple and blackberry fruit leather. Very easy to make, just takes a little time and patience, most of which can happen while you are asleep (maybe not if you are freaky about the oven being on).
THAI CURRY | 16 OCTOBER 2014
It used to be a running joke that when my brother visited the States from London he invariably brought the weather with him. He never found it funny, I now have a better understanding of why.
Four years ago, Pascal and I got married. While I meticulously planned the invitations, décor, and menu (albeit not without some input from him) he got started on the honeymoon. Our choice of a September wedding precluded the obvious Caribbean destinations due to hurricane risk; he would have to look farther afield. And to his credit, he decided to keep it a surprise only to be revealed as we flew over the Atlantic days before our nuptials.
After tying the knot, we were to return back to London, change bags and head back to the airport to begin our eastward journey towards the dry season of South East Asia. The trip itself was wonderful: Indonesia and Thailand. A mixture of culture and beach, great food, lovely people and, shockingly, rain. And not just any rain, all encompassing, can’t stay dry no matter how big your umbrella is rain. We took it in stride. Temples shrouded in mist, an excuse for a lazy day out of the sun but when we arrived in Bangkok camping out in our hotel room didn’t seem like the best option. We wanted to see the city, how were we going to do that without venturing outdoors? A full day cooking class was the answer, complete with market tour (rain or shine). And off we went.
The first half (and thankfully drier half) of the course was devoted to the market. We sourced our ingredients; met the durian fruit; saw piles of white powder on offer (MSG in case you were wondering) and marvelled at how foreign everything was. Once finished it was back to the kitchen.
We chopped and ground and fried and poached and learned to make a handful of things. But if I took anything away it was Thai curry. That day we made our own. Panang I think it was. And I encourage you to do so too, once! Then find the type you like and buy some paste. The cooking school recommended Mae Ploy as the brand they liked the best. When looking for it the other day at my nearest Asian specialty store, the woman (jury's still out on that one, actually) told me to take another brand, “all the restaurants use it”, she said. It was good and came in small packets so I could try a bunch of different flavours. For me, one brand is as good as another.
Thai curry has become my go to weeknight meal. It is great for using up mangy looking vegetables and is as satisfying with only vegetables as it is with meat. You just need to be a little prepared, or well-stocked, I should say. A trip to the Asian food store is worthwhile because once you have the ingredients you are more likely to make more Asian style foods. For Thai dishes, the basics include: curry paste, fish sauce, rice vinegar, coconut milk (one can is usually good for two people so buy a couple) and Kaffir lime leaves (frozen). While you are there, pick up some sesame oil, soy sauce, palm sugar, mirin and some hot sauce of your choice.
So assuming you did your shop, you will also need some garlic and ginger. Chillies optional. Some stock or bullion. Vegetables and maybe some chicken.
For two people, fry a tablespoon or two of curry paste in some olive oil being careful not to burn it. Curry paste includes ginger and garlic but I like to add some more, so add the ginger and garlic. Microplane is easiest here. Add the chillies if you plan to and a bit of fish sauce. Fish sauce replaces salt.
Wait until the mixture become fragrant and add a little of your coconut milk just so the paste and the coconut milk incorporate. By doing this slowly you reduce the risk of the coconut milk splitting, which isn’t the end of the world but we’d rather it didn’t happen. Just keep adding until it’s all in and smooth.
Now add your thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves. The easiest way to do this is by rolling them into a cigar and slicing them that way.
Add your vegetables. Start with the ones that take the longest. You may want to add some stock or water to thin out the consistency. I usually have some vegetable bullion on hand and use that. When all of the vegetables look they are about 5 minutes away from done add the chicken if you are using it. It will poach gently in the liquid.
Now curry does not a pretty picture take but it's sure to warm your spirits.
Many years ago in an airport, I bought Pascal a sandwich. We hadn’t been together long and our lives up until that point had been largely sandwich free. While my go-to had always been and still is ham and Swiss (a cheese that incidentally doesn’t exist in Switzerland, but in desperation Emmenthal will get you most of the way there), I had no idea what to get him. Unwilling to give up my chosen sandwich, I offered him the other with the disclaimer that he might not like it. He looked up and replied “I’m not going to look a free horse in the mouth!” This was the first of many Pascalism’s which are both endearing and a testament to his intelligence. But the sentiment is one that I truly believe, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” This is how I feel about my apple tree.
It seemed a bit premature to begin at the end of the August but already the apples have started falling from the tree and we are faced with yet again another glut of apples. I have a hard time throwing things away. I am not a hoarder per se but there is the odd sweater from high school I cannot seem to part with. So you can imagine that I am at odds with the amount of apples we have. Looking for a way to turn them into treasure I thought the sweet apples would make nice dried apple slices. Trimming away the bad bits (the bees like them too), I cored them and sliced them very thinly on the mandolin. I popped them in a very low oven on a silpat mat and promptly forgot about them. When I remembered them, they looked ok, I turned them over and forgot about them again. I am not sure how the time got away but apples were clearly, for that one moment, not on my mind. By the time I remembered them the chewy apple rings I had imagine were a distant memory and what remained were much much better. As crunchy as potato chips but sweet. Extremely addictive to adult and child alike. If you are looking to upgrade your snacks I recommend you make them.
“Spanish people tend to judge themselves and others on the quality of their gazpacho.” These were the words spoken to me by a dinner guest moments before I was about to serve just that for dinner. Thankfully we had no Spaniards at the table that evening.
The gazpacho was also a success. I can’t, however, take all of the credit. My gazpacho recipe comes from a daylong cooking course my husband and I took at Daylesford Organic in Gloucestershire. Gazpacho was to be a main feature of the “Summer Dinner” we were to cook up led by a punchy little Portuguese man named Vlad, who was intent on teaching us that it is much more than cold tomato soup.
I grew up eating gazpacho, an appetizer for a summer’s day. Always chilled, they were often served with accompaniments. Extra peppers, onions, croutons, even cheese or sour cream, were passed around the table. Much like the extra adornments for Chile con Carne. Vlad’s gazpacho was not even a distant relative. He instructed us as to how each of the ingredients melded with one another and why the olive oil was such an important addition. Mark Bittman relayed recently that olive oil is, in fact, “an integral part of ‘real’ gazpacho.” This soup so transcended the gazpacho I once knew and it is easy to make. Yes there is the chopping, the waiting, the blending, the sieving and the chilling but even with all that it’s still easy.
You will need 1kg of small tomatoes, 1 red pepper, ½ red onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 50g of bread, some salt, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, 4 tsp white wine vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil, a couple sprigs of basil and 500ml of water.
Now the above might seem intimidatingly specific, but really its not. Plus you can make it up as you go along. If you want it spicier add more cayenne, more velvety, add more oil and so on.
Chop all the ingredients and put them in a bowl, stir together and let sit for a minimum of 1 hour and up to 24 hours, covered with plastic wrap.
Blitz in a food processor or blender until smooth. This recipe alone is making me consider a Vitamix. If you want a chunky version you are now done. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
If not, pass the mixture through a food mill and strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Chill and serve.
I then took a little of the left over pulp and chilled it in the freezer to add a little texture. Completely optional and potentially unnecessary.
At the beginning of my second year of university, a friend I had made the previous year asked me what I had done all summer. I told her that I had been in New York for most of it. So had she, she responded and didn’t I receive her phone messages. Why hadn’t we hung out? Well to be frank, I told her, it didn’t even occur to me. I grew up in New York City and had no concept of year round friends. I had school friends and summer friends.
It’s a strange concept for most but for New Yorkers, who do their best to get out of the city as soon as the sidewalk starts to steam, it makes complete sense. Most of my summer friends, New Yorkers or otherwise, ended up in NYC and some even made it to London and now they are firmly year round friends. Things are different now. More mothers work and escaping for the entire summer isn’t potentially as normal as it once was. I wonder if the concept of summer friends still exists or if it’s just weekend friends. Or maybe just friends. I made these outfits for little babies whose parents used to be my summer friends, and I hope they will be summer friends as well. They can decide if they want to upgrade to year round!
Ten years ago, my father turned 60. In an effort to commemorate the event, my sister and I reached out to his entire network asking for stories about the man. The responses came in thick and fast and we managed to compile quite a sizeable tome. To me one story, in particular, stood out. It was a recollection of a debate between my father and his wife about the color of Yorkshire pudding. She contended it was brown, he white or vice versa*. Either way it was a heated debate. At some point during the discussion my father got up, left the room and quickly returned with what was probably the 1968 version of the Oxford English Dictionary. The amount of time between his departure and return meant he hadn’t yet looked up the answer and as the author wrote “he was willing to win or lose in front of us all.”
That is how I feel about Beef Wellington: a major gamble, likely a failure, but potentially a roaring success. The actual origin of the dish remains unknown but lore behind the dish revolves mostly around the Duke of Wellington: it was his favorite dish; it resembled the eponymous boots; it was just a rebranding of “boeuf en croute,” the “Freedom Fries” of the Napoleonic age.
The premise of the dish is simple: flaky pastry and tender beef. Simple but not so simple. The pastry is often soggy and the meat overcooked and dried out. It is necessary to avoid both at all cost, yet seemingly difficult to achieve.
You will need a filet of beef, store bought puff pastry, button or cremini mushrooms, pate, thyme and maybe a little mustard.
First sauté the mushrooms in olive oil with some thyme. A traditional recipe calls for a duxelle, which are very finely chopped or minced mushrooms with shallots. We opted for sliced mushrooms and no shallots and it turned out just fine. After you have sautéed them, put them in a strainer over a bowl to strain out the liquid. This is as very important step in avoiding soggy pastry.
Then brown the meat on all sides. Once cooled, place the meat on one sheet of puff pastry and slather with mustard, if using, followed by the pate. Now take your mushrooms and ring them out further to get even more liquid out. Spread a layer of mushrooms over the top. Cover the meat with puff pastry, paint with egg wash.
Roast in a hot oven for about 35 minutes at around 180°C or 375°F until the pastry is golden brown. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
Here is where the hope comes in. When slicing down the center, the beef should be a perfect medium rare and the pastry browned and flaky.
*The color of Yorkshire pudding can vary from white to brown depending on the amount of beef drippings added. As a result it was a tie.
Hoping to supplement my monthly parental stipend, read allowance, I enrolled in a course at the Columbia Bartending Agency during my freshmen year of college. The dream was to whip up fantastic cocktails while lining my pockets with twenties. The course took place over several evenings culminating with a written test and an oral examination at which point you would have to mix a drink while telling a joke. As we waited for the tests to be handed out, my neighbor quietly asked if I had prepared any jokes. I mentioned I had two I was considering. She then offered to hear them and let me know which she thought was the better joke. Needless to say, when her name was called before mine for the oral examination she duly stole my joke, but then botched her drink. As my husband would say, “God punishes immediately.”
One of the must-learn drinks was the Bloody Mary; complicated only by it's litany of ingredients. Ironically, it is not one often asked for by the clients of the Columbia Bartending Agency since Americans consider the Bloody Mary a morning drink and most events were not in the morning. Be aware that while it is perfectly normal to order a Bloody Mary for brunch at 11am in the US, those in other countries, Switzerland for example, might think you are crazy.