Winters bouquet

ApplesandPrunes5

A number of weeks ago I brought a bowl of speckled yellow green apples into my room to take a photo of. An unusual variety, with a rough skin airing on the side of a mans five o’clock shadow. Nicely nestled in the bowl atop a little dining table I’ve wedged into my bedroom, formally patio, that’s why it’s so sunny! (And why I sleep with two comforters and sometimes a knit hat) I decided to keep the bowl of apples in the bedroom, in place of flowers which have long since tucked in until spring.

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Seeing an apple soaking in the early mornings winters sun seems quite appealing to me. I’ve been munching on an apple in my bedroom many mornings lately when I’m not in a rush. As I tidy the bed, unknot my hair, dress and chat with Thomas, my pet bird, about today’s plans. Have you ever seen Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Scheme? “Munch on an apple as you tidy yourself and your space before getting on with it!” Just kidding, that’s my daily scheme!  And because of it I’ve been topping up my bowl of apples each Saturday. The abundance of apples has lead to a few namely pleasures. 1. Discovering  locally grown and unfamiliar varieties. 2. Baked apples with prunes. 3. A morning snack to hold me over before whatever is in store for the day. More talk about point 1. and 2. . . .  For me,  the most notable apples of the year have been a delicate French varietal known as Calville Blanc d’Hiver, almost quince like in appearance, soft and honey like to taste. Golden Russet, being the one I first photographed, under its tannic and rough speckled skin a refreshingly juicy, sharply cider tasting flesh awaits.  Finally, the elegant Winesap. Tasting like roses, and rose tinted  wine.  Each I’ve cored and piped inside a floral pruney paste. Raisiny, vanilla-like and chocolaty, there is something about this prune paste which has made for a wonderful treat with apples.
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Baked Apples with Prune Filling

Prune Filling – A paste I learned from a sunny English chef, as she casually tossed ingredients about pastry counter into the processor. Between pulses she’d taste, smiling the whole bout of it. Truly, she loved a good prune and showed me shortly that I would too.

It’s a rough ratio of things but prunes should be dominant. I have found this recipe to work for me, packaging the remaining and keeping in the fridge until another night in the week which calls for more baked apples.

  • 4 apples
  • 400 grams prunes
  • 200 grams blanched almonds, ground coarsely in a oter and pestle, plus more for garnish
  • 75 grams light brown sugar
  • Large knob of softened butter
  • Pinch of maldon salt
  • Glug of amaretto, or of course, whatever is still lurking in the pantry.

Begin by preheating the oven to 325ºF. Set your prunes in a bowl and soak in a small glug of amaretto. Set aside just for a few minutes as you prepare your other ingredients for assembly.

Take a handful of whole almonds, and spread onto tray, sprinkling a bit of sugar atop. Toast until golden about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare you apples and baking parcels. Core the apples and set aside. Cut parchment paper into squares just large enough to contain one (I like two!) apple. Along with a few strands of bakers twine to tie each apple parcel up. Set aside as well and move onto the filling.

It will all be done in a food processor. Begin by adding the prunes and their soaking liquor, pulsing until a jammy. Add a large, softened knob of butter, I’d say in between a ⅓ cup and ½ cup along  with the brown sugar. Pulse again until well combined. Adding a splash more liquor as needed and a pinch of maldon. Lastly adding the ground almonds, only pulsing together until just combined. Transfer the sticky and fragrant prune paste into a piping bag and pipe into each cored apple set atop their parcel, topped with a spoonful of butter, a few drips of the chosen liquor, a dusting more of sugar and a sprinkle of the almonds toasted earlier.  Tie up with the twine and bake in a pan until soft, about an hour, the time depending on the apple variety. Serve at once or reheat later. I love mine with creme fraiche loosened with heavy cream pooled in the base of the dish.

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Wandering mind

WanderersSoup3

So. It appears I quite like eating biscuits from the package. Not such a low, as it surprised me nearly gleefully. Who knew I’d soon be in the checkout line at the grocery store with only a semi-carefully selected chocolate bar in hand. It’s best to say I’m celebrating the time, and the time calls for this. My own version of Moroccan mint tea steeping, a packaged sweet, be it biscuit or chocolate unraveled nearby, and under the pressing glare of three lamps light. I have been nose deep in a crash course in what is Moorish cuisine. November has been a grave month for cooking but full of imagery.

Saffron infused rice. (Goodness, and it may stay an image until I can just go on with it and buy a few pinches!) Almonds, garlic and stale bread blitzed until becoming a creamy Ajo Blanco and then dotted with bursting muscat grapes. Sunset pink sherry vinegar both sweet and sour doused on lightly cooked white flakey fish. Pomegranate molasses spread upon dark braises and roasts, perhaps duck! Spices like sweet and smoky paprika, citrusy and earthy cumin and peppery caraway. Dried citrus and apricots pridefully standing on a serving platter or stirred into Asure (barley pudding). Ground almonds, cane sugar, nose curling cinnamon bound with pork lard baked into a humble batch of cookies known as Polvorones.

I’ve felt completely in awe of every dish. The Moors have cultivated an elaborate peasants cuisine. Every ingredient comes from the fruits of their own, or their neighbors labor. The food is balanced, dotted with delicacies, loving and humble. Resulting in the most satisfying meal, I’m partial to think. There is an emphasis on spices, fruits and herbs. And as the summer became fall and fall is becoming winter, the juicy crunch of a fruit is still at foot.  Paired with a warming spice or sharp herb my metabolism is radiating. I can still wear a dress and slippers about the house, the only thing  different is warming foods.

As I read
I daydream
As if I were there
An assistant to the director
We conjure magic and read minds

And then of course it being read

Being a cookbook

It’s us at the table, but every recipe looks good!
It’s a big table

Closed the book, picked up a few magic tricks
And please won’t you come for dinner?

It’s December now and I’ve cooked my first two Moorish dishes. Wanderers Soup and a Quince Jello Jelly. Recipes from le grand duo, Sam and Sam Clark. The couple and talented chefs wrote two cookbooks based upon their documentations through Moorish villages populating Southern Spain, Northern Africa and Morocco. And then thirdly, this one, Moro East. Dedicated to the Manor Garden Allotment in East London. Where the two learned to grow variety crops (from peas and salad greens, to artichokes, sorrel and bundles of herbs) amongst the help and knowing hands of their British, Greek, Turkish, West Indian, Kurdish, Polish and Italian-born neighbors. This book is dedicated to the people of the allotment, the allotments itself, and the British grown vegetables and fruits which have sprouted there and lavish every dish.

I can’t help but think of Mary, when the robin bird helps her find the way into The Secret Garden. Tending and then without realizing, blooming herself too.  

WanderersSoup

Wanderers Soup

today I’m in my mother’s wooden sole brown clogs.
cooking her soup.

When I picked up the chorizo for this dish, it came in a nice ring, like a hoop earring or a fine christmas ornament. Good for fun, not good for you if there are dogs.

serves 4

  • 50g butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 medium potato, or six smaller ones (about 600g) peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 or 2 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 800ml chicken stock
  • A few grates of nutmeg
  • 4 handfuls (about 200g) or foraged greens (a mixture of sorrel, rocket, dandelion, parsley), I used spinach or pea shoots from the farmers market, washed and chopped
  • 150g cooking chorizo, diced small (the best part if I may say, of the dish!)

In a large heavy pot, melt the butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion along with a four fingered pinch of salt and soften, cooking for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t forget to stir occasionally! Done when the onion is golden. Turn down the heat to medium-low and stir in the potatoes, garlic, and bay leaves along with another pinch of salt. Place the lid atop and allow to cook gently, for about 25 minutes. Or until the potatoes are tender. And again, stirring every so often, to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the potatoes are tender and glossy, plump with butter and olive oil, add the stock and a few grates of nutmeg. Now bring to a boil, and then a simmer for 5-10 minutes. It is almost lunch time! Turn the heat off, remove the bay leaves and whizz with a handheld blender, (a processor will do finely as well) until very smooth. At this point stir in your leafy greens. Meanwhile fry your chorizo in the remaining tbsp of olive oil, until crispy in parts and cooked through all over. Check the soup for seasoning, dot into bowls and spoon the chorizo and it’s spitting red oil dressed atop.

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QuinceJelly

Quince Jelly

serves 4

  • 2 medium quince (about 400g)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 125 g sugar
  • 4cm cinnamon stick
  • 700ml water
  • 12g leaf gelatin

Peel the quince and with a sharp knife cut each into 8 long wedges, coring from each wedge. Toss the slices in lemon juice as you go in the saucepan you will used to keep them from turning brown. When all are done, top up the saucepan with the cinnamon stick, sugar and water. Covering with a tight fitting lid, place over a simmer, the lowest heat possible, and stew gently for the next 2 ½ hours. When the quince is done the liquid will be a rosy pink, the quince will have matured a number of shades and be tender to the bite. Use a slotted spoon to gently lift the wedges into a jelly mold or a favorite bowl. Strain the liquid, measuring out 500ml, discarding the rest (or saving for soon to discover clever use as I like to do). Soak the gelatin in cold water for about three minutes, squeeze dry and stir into the hot syrup until completely melted. Pour over the quince wedges and leave to cool, followed by refrigerating overnight. Serve in the bowl or allow to stand in hot water for a few seconds before turning out onto a plate. I serve mine by the great spoonful with softly whipped cream.

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there once was a pear tree which who turned water into honey
thankful for the gifts the villagers brought her roses
in which
she gave them a quince