Monday, August 26, 2013

The Work Horse

Back in July, London was assailed by a heatwave that turned the city into a soupy mess. It took two spectacular thunderstorms and a few downpours to finally quell the heat. Now that August is on its way out, it feels like Summer is waning too fast, and I almost want the mercury to soar high again... Well, sunny days may indeed have a chilly edge to them now, but it does not mean that all is over. Not just yet.

There are still lots of summer treats to indulge in, and the season is far from over. The words 'summer pudding' say it all: this typically British dessert is not very well known outside of the UK, but it should be. Besides the almost obscene amount of fruits that go into a single pudding, there are few other ingredients, all of which you probably already have on hand. Not only is it GOOD for you, it's darn tasty as well.

It's just not always photogenic. Though I am only posting this recipe now, at the end of August, I have actually been trying to get the word out since mid-July! The pudding was just feeling camera shy. So I made several versions, in different sizes, and more to the point, my sweets and I ate several versions... All in the interest of science of course.

Traditional summer puddings are made with sliced, white bread, and a quick compote of summer berries, but this variation on the theme is a fresher take. I prefer sliced brioche to white bread, but I think the best bread would be a challah loaf. If you have a Jewish deli nearby, do use challah for this recipe. The quantities are difficult to gauge, as they depend all depend on the size bowl you use: I used a cereal bowl with a 400ml/14 fl.oz. capacity.

Summer Pudding
Serves 4 to 5 persons

3-6 slices challah, brioche or white bread
750ml/3c mixed berries and summer fruits such as strawberries; blueberries; raspberries; red and black currants; blackberries; and pitted cherries
100g/½c sugar, or to taste
5 leaves each mint and basil

Finely shred the mint and basil leaves. Mix with the sugar.
Wash and hull the berries. Larger ones should be halved or quartered. Sprinkle with the herb sugar, and crush the fruits lightly. Adjust the amount of sugar according to the tartness of the fruit. Set aside for about 30 minutes.
Fill a cereal bowl with water, and empty out. Line the wet bowl with a large square of cling film, making sure that there is a wide margin of film overlapping the edge of the bowl. Press out any gaps or air bubbles. Set aside.
Cut each slices of bread on the diagonal, trimming the edges only if they are not very square.
Line the bowl with the bread triangles: you should get a pinwheel pattern if all the pointy ends meet up in the centre of the bowl.

Fill the bowl halfway with the berry mix, making sure to spoon in the juice as well.
Cut out a circle of bread about the same size as the lined bowl: if your bowl is very shallow, this step is unnecessary, however, it may help to stabilise the pudding and prevent it from collapsing when cut into. Fit over the fruits before topping up with more fruit.
Press down the fruits, and add some more: there needs to be an overflow of at least 1cm/½".
Drizzle any extra juice left over from the fruits before closing up the pudding with one last disk of bread.
Cover with pudding with cling film. Place a heavy object on top to weigh down the fruits.
Chill at least overnight before serving.

To serve, unwrap the pudding and flip out on to a serving plate. Remove all the cling film. Cut into wedges, and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche, clotted cream, thick yoghurt or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you have any left over fruits, you can blitz them in a blender and drizzle over the turned-out pudding for extra oomph. Or you can make a summer cup...

Bon app'!

This Is Why I Still Do NOT Own a Smartphone

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cart Before Horse

I've got to hand it to the British for knowing how to really celebrate Summer. Despite being a reluctant visitor to these shores, at the first hint of warm weather, the bunting breaks out, bare skin makes an appearance, and the cocktails start to flow. 

The Pimm's cup is one of the most popular summer cocktail in the British isle, and it is only to be seen from late June to September. The classic Pimm's is composed of a secret blend of gin and other liqueurs, to which is added some fizzy lemonade or ginger ale, a mix of fruits and slivers of cucumber. It is an incredibly refreshing drink, and is most delightful on a sweltering day, though it is just as satisfying in the creeping cool of August.

Of course, to make an real Pimm's, one requires a bottle of Pimm's. However, procuring said bottle may not always be so easy in North America. There are ways around this difficulty though, provided you have some gin, and a good selection of fruits.

Summer Fruit Cup
For each serving

1 shot of gin
1 Tbs orange liqueur of your choice (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or white curaçao)
1 generous handful of berries or other seasonal fruits
1 tsp sugar
2 mint leaves
lemon soda, ginger ale or tonic water
ice cubes

In a tall Collins glass, crush the mint leaves and sugar together, until fragrant.
Add the berries, and lightly bruise to extract some juice.
Pour the shot of gin and the orange liqueur.
Fill the glass with ice, top up with the soda of your choice.
Stir and serve.

This cocktail is best when the fruits are at the peak of their flavour: while you may still find strawberries in August, blackberries and cherries will be more abundant. Plums and peaches would also be lovely in this mix, and you could always use some left-overs from a summer pudding or even a fruit salad. If you are using sweetened left-overs, you can omit the sugar in the recipe.

Bottoms up!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Inching Through the Quagmire

Hello. You've been on my mind. In fact, I've been been thinking a lot about you, especially when I'm at work. It's been a busy few weeks, and though the ideas are there, the posts are just not writing themselves! I seem to be swaying between the states of apathy and severe writer's block. But just to prove that I have not forgotten you, here are a few photos of posts-to-be that are floating around.

I've been eating industrial quantities of babaghanouj. Also known as moutabiel, this aubergine dish is all too easy to buy from the supermarket, but it is also a cinch to make at home. And the results are often miles better than anything you can get from a plastic tub. (And Godzilla only ever makes an appearance in bowls of the homemade stuff...)

I've gone all out this year, and have made several batches of jam -both from wild fruits and from bought stuff- and it doesn't seem like I will stop anytime soon (especially since the blackberries and elderberries are getting ripe!), but I've also been indulging in a few batches of summer pudding. The post itself is nearly all written up, I'm just waiting for a pretty shot. It turns out that this classic British dessert is not very photogenic. Which I suppose means I will have to persist in making more puds in the hope one of them will dazzle the cameras...

And then there are all those left-over berries to deal with... Anyone fancy a drink?

Bon app'!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Puttering About

Where has the time gone? I cannot believe it is August already! Time really does fly when one is busy... And I've been particularly tied up with a new job, and a sudden surge of personal time: why is it that the more time one has for me-time, the busier one gets? In any case, August is certainly not the time to lets one's guard down, as it is exactly when gardens and fields step it up a notch. If July felt like the month of plenty, then August is most definitely the month of overflow.

Strawberries are far from being over. Gone are the days when the heart-shaped berries were at their best only in June and July. Ever-bearing varieties are productive well into October (and beyond if there are no killer frosts). However, these strawberries are not as abundant as earlies, and prices will creep up as the season advances. If you have not put up your pots of jam or frozen a few trays for winter, now is the time to do so.
Strawberries are not alone on market shelves in August: the wild blueberry (bilberry in the UK) should be at its best this time of the year, and their tart flavour makes for better preserves and pies than its overgrown cousin the cultivated blueberry.
August raspberries tend to be sweeter and somewhat less dear than in July (because they are more abundant), but they won't be sticking around for much longer, so do enjoy them while you can.
Blackberries and mulberries are also coming into season. Both fruits look similar and can confound eaters, though mulberries do tend to have smaller seeds and to be sweeter than tart. However, at shops and markets you are more likely to find blackberries.

Come August,  what I wish for most is to be back in Montreal. Not that I get particularly home-sick at this time of the year, no, it is the sweet corn that I miss most. There is nothing like just-picked-a-few-hours-ago corn on the cob, simply boiled and doused in butter (with a splash of soy sauce!) Cheese and wine may well be cheaper in Europe, but corn on the cob is a misunderstood delicacy on this side of the pond: would you believe that corn is available throughout most of the year, and is usually sold shucked! I cringe whenever I walk past the plastic-wrapped packs of corn pre-skewered and ready for the barbecue. Like fresh peas, half the fun of eating corn is the shucking, and there is no better packaging to preserve its flavour than its own natural clothing.

Zukes, and cukes become the bane of vegetable gardeners and all their neighbours at this time of the year: while zucchini (courgette) and cucumber plants may have spent much of July looking like they were up to not much, come August they jump into hyper-production, and most gardeners find themselves swamped. In desperation, some gardeners may resort to dumping loads of squash on their neighbours' doorsteps.
There are less anti-social ways to make the bumper crop disappear: zucchini are great mixed into into a banana loaf - I'm sure that most neighbours would prefer this option if given a choice...- but they can also be chopped up and frozen for soups and stews later in the year. 
Cucumbers are a little more fiddly, as they do not freeze well at all. However, if you are tired of cucumber salads, cold soups, and industrial vats of tzatziki or raita, they can be cooked. Yes, you read right: cucumbers sautéd in some butter, seasoned generously with pepper and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice is a forgotten classic of French cooking. Give it a try!

Grapes are now such an ubiquitous and permanent fixture on supermarket shelves, that we've forgotten that they actually have a season. While I have yet to find a wild, fruit-bearing vine in London, I know of a few spots in Montreal that are well-favoured by home-brewers. Wild grapes are most often tart and tannic (that mouth-drying feeling you get from an overly robust red wine) so they may be better suited to vinegar than wine-making, but they do make lovely jellies and may be coaxed into a nice tart as well. Of course, you may luck out and find a wild grape that is actually delicious straight up...

Tomatoes and their ilk
Last but not least, is the tomato family! In August -weather permitting- tomato, eggplant (aubergine) and pepper crops go into overdrive, and become cheap as chips. Now is definitely the time to be putting away jars of tomato sauce, roasting aubergines for babaghanouj, canning some grilled peppers, or stocking up on some homemade romesco sauce.

Bon app'!

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