Thursday, September 14, 2017

Spicy Tomato Jam & Cheddar Biscuits

Tomato jam uses up lots of tomatoes which are still streaming in from the potager, though at a lesser pace. Three pounds makes around two cups (470 ml). It will keep in the fridge for a week or two and any surplus can be frozen.

These tender biscuits can be pulled apart with your hands

Ingredients for Spicy Tomato Jam
makes around 470 ml/2 American cups, 8 fluid oz each, adapted from Serious Eats

  • Tomatoes (the best you can find, I used romas from our garden), 1.4 kg/3 lbs, skinned, cored, chopped
  • Sugar, granulated, white, 4 T (the original recipe called for 2 cups or 32 T, feel free to use that amount, I am sure it will be delish and very jammy, but I was aiming more for a condiment plus our garden-fresh tomatoes are very sweet on their own)
  • Ginger, freshly grated (I used frozen minced ginger), 1 T
  • Red pepper flakes, 1/2 to 2 tsp (I used 1/2 tsp which resulted in a mild level of heat)
  • Salt, 1 tsp
  • Cinnamon, ground, 1/2 tsp
  • Cumin, 1/4 tsp (I substituted caraway seed which gave a nice earthiness, is in the same family as cumin, and was in our larder)
  • Lemon juice, freshly squeezed, 4 T (a large lemon should do it)

Place all ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I used enamelled cast iron). Stirring frequently, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for around two hours. When is thick, thick enough? The first indication is the 'parting of the red sea' test. If a swipe across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon stays for around thirty seconds you are getting closer to getting a jam consistency. A rule of thumb is when the jam is still watery, higher heat makes sense, when pretty thick, a lower one does. Stir occasionally and don't leave the pot untended longer than fifteen minutes.

When you can pile the jam to one corner of the pot and it stays there like a mountain smugly satisfied with its stationary status . . .

. . . you are done. The jam can be eaten right out of the jar with a spoon; accompany fish, poultry, and meat; adorn grilled cheese, BLT, and burgers; cosy up to some scrambled eggs; gussy up a cheese platter.

Ingredients for Cheddar Biscuits
makes around 16 two-inch/5 cm rounds, from Fannie Farmer, my culinary bible

  • Flour, white, all-purpose, 280 g/2 cups (American measure, that is, 8 fluid oz each cup)
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Baking powder, 4 tsp
  • Cream of tartar, 1/2 tsp (I leave this out)
  • Sugar, granulated, white, 1 T
  • Vegetable shortening (I substituted sweet butter, cut into small cubes), 8 T (1/2 American cup, 4 fluid oz)
  • Milk, 15o ml (2/3 American cup, 5.3 fluid oz)
  • Cheddar, sharp, 8 T (1/2 American cup, 4 fluid oz), finely grated and loosely packed (if more cheesiness is desired, pack the cheese down, but the biscuits may be less fluffy)

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F (for more crustiness, preheat to 230 degrees C/450 degrees F which is the temperature I used). Mix the first five ingredients in a bowl. Stir in the cheese.

Add the shortening or butter. Work it with your fingertips till the texture is that of coarse meal.

Pour in the milk all at once. Mix with a wooden spoon

The dough will be crumbly.

Knead it 14 times. That's right. 14 times. Not more or less. I never question Fannie. Flour a board well as the dough is somewhat sticky because of the cheese. Pat out dough to a thickness of 1.3 cm (1/2 inch). Cut out rounds with a 5 cm (2-inch) cutter. Gather the scraps and cut again. Repeat till all or most of the dough is used.

Properly cutting out the dough, that is, with an up and down motion with no twisting, will give you loftier biscuits.

Ah, the whiff of cheddar! Whets the appetite for sure

Place them, slightly touching each other (this gives crusty outsides and fluffy insides), on buttered cake pans or pie plates. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and when they don't leave an impression when touched.

Oh my. So GOOD! The pairing of spicy tomato jam with cheddar biscuits is a sublime one. Gobble them up as a snack or serve them with scrambled eggs for brunch.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Do Give A Fig, It's The Season!

Our fig tree will continue to regale us with its fruits for this month of September. Not too far south of us, in Provence, the harvest is much beloved and is celebrated via several festivals. A conte forlorique (fairy tale) from the Aubrac region that is as beloved, is Le Panier de Figues. En bref, the king, who is a great lover of fresh figs, promises his daughter to a local lad who is able to present him with a basket of the best figs.

Three brothers take up the challenge. The first two are rude to an old woman on their way to the king. When they arrive, the king eagerly uncovers the basket only to see, and I am assuming, smell, a bunch of turds. The third son who was kind and polite to the old woman, not only does not have his figs transformed into something revoltingly inedible, he also is given a whistle.

The fig itself is an enlarged, hollow stem containing flowers which when pollinated by wasps (yes, wasps! who squirm their way inside), the blooms become individual druplets that set seed

Being a king, and being able to do whatever he pleases, Mr. Royalty imposes an additional condition, that once his rabbits who are known to be extremely rambunctious are released, they must be all recovered. Yes, the whistle. Its works even on willy nilly rabbits. And even if Mr. and Mrs. Royalty don clever disguises as earnest rabbit buyers willing to subject themselves to painful laceration and discomfiture from crawling under a very thorny rosebush. The royal one however does not quit when the quitting is good and insists the lad reveal three secrets. The lad then begins to describe injuries which are incurred when scrabbling under a thorny rosebush. To keep the boy silent, the king suddenly and finally keeps his promise. The moral is if you want to get the girl, be nice to old women.

Fresh figs lend themselves to not only fancy dishes, but also to easy and simple. Tuck in a noix (the size of a hazelnut) of sweet butter into the centre crevices of halved figs. 

Place fairly close under a preheated broiler for about three minutes or until the edges are browned and the surface is a bit bubbly.

A large serving spoon best be used to trap all the delicious ooze.

Broiled figs can be served over ice cream for a sweet delice or accompany savoury fish, lamb, chicken, and pork main dishes.

As the potager is still giving us some raspberries and strawberries, they got mixed with chopped figs. The melange makes a luscious topping for yogurt.

For an oh-so-tasty first course, add Parmesan shavings to a plate of quartered figs. Sprinkle balsamic or fruit vinegar (in my case, apple cider vinegar). Finish with a grinding of black pepper.

The leaves are delightful in being large, flexible, shiny, dark green, and conveniently lobed. Just ask Adam and Eve. (Does the fig's reputation as an aphrodisiac get somewhat mollified because of its role in keeping the supposedly first humans modestly covered?) And by October, when all will be on the ground, they will be raked along with the ones from the oak and fruit trees into a compost pile. The mound will be covered with tree netting secured with tiles and stones so the wind won't undo all that raking. Leaf mould possesses enormous capacity for retaining moisture so as a supplement to be incorporated to easily baked soil like our garden soil, it is unsurpassed.

It's the smallest I could find which is the size of my spread-out hand

À la prochaine!


Le panier de figues (In french)
15 deliciously quick fig recipes (including the three in my post)

Fig festival Mas d'Azil
Fig Festival Solliès-Pont 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Nippy Morn=Oatmeal

Peaches, butter, and cinnamon topping oatmeal is a treat on a cool, late-summer morning. The peach harvest is now finished with a yield of about eighteen kilograms/forty pounds.

Most of those peaches have been eaten or processed. But no bowl of oatmeal chez nous should fear not being adorned with fresh fruit. Because? Figs! Our tree puts out two harvests, a small one in spring, and the main and larger one in late-summer/early autumn. They must be picked ripe as they will not mature any further once off the tree. When ready, it will fall into a cupped hand after a slight downward pressure is applied on its point of attachment. Plus, it will feel and look like a tight balloon ready to break.

Not fully ripe figs taste chalky

Though I try to keep all our fruit trees not much taller than myself, the fig tree is just too exuberant to be tamed that way.

The birds get the ones that are too high for me to harvest

Figs in various stages of ripening festoon a branch.

Farewell, peaches.  Hello, figs!

That golden, gooey lusciousness tastes as good as it looks

The tomato harvest is slowing down. So far, forty-five kilograms/one-hundred pounds either have been eaten or processed.

Potatoes are being dug up every day. The Calm One scavenged a pallet to put on the cellier floor so they will be well ventilated.

An old duvet cover is used to keep the taters in the dark

There's a honeysuckle bloom here and there. It doesn't matter how few there are, their fragrance still suffuses the air.

The zinnias are going strong and have been since July. Sedum Autumn Joy is setting buds.

Autumn Joy provides nectar for bees and seeds for birds, plus a whole lot of prettiness

Eli the Kitten at ten months of age is going strong too and takes his assistant photographer job seriously, sometimes too seriously. When I scold him that he is underfoot and is slowing me down, he meows that such pauses help my concentration.

I don't know, maybe the orange zinnias would have made a better shot?

À la prochaine!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shades Of Gold: Peach Lassi, Velouté de Carottes & Carrot Thyme Pakora

It's as if the peaches are getting a head start on autumn with their glowing colour flushed with gold and red.

Our peach harvest has been plentiful this season

A lassi is easy to make if you have a stick mixer. 750 watts is powerful enough to pulverise most fruits. For one large serving or two smaller ones, put 237 ml/8 oz of yogurt, 59 ml/2 oz of water, a tablespoon or two of sugar, and chopped up washed, pitted peaches (3 medium or 6 small) in the tall container that comes with the mixer. A splash of cognac and/or freshly grated nutmeg are nice additions. Mix until smooth. Peaches can be first skinned with a veggie peeler if desired. The colour will be more softly pink then with the skins left on but the lassi will be less fragrant. I like it both ways.

What to do with that nice bunch of freshly pulled carrots?

Velouté de carottes is a wonderful soup. Ingredient list and detailed instructions are in this old post. Sliced carrots, celery, and onions are slowly sauteed in butter till soft, translucent, and fragrant which takes about 20 minutes. Minced parsley and diced potatoes are added and stirred for a minute or two. Chicken broth (veggie broth can be substituted) is poured in. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes.

Besides carrots, the potatoes are from our potager

Puree, add cream, and salt and pepper (freshly ground of course!) to taste. It can be served cold or hot, though during summer The Calm One and I love it lukewarm.

The yellow of chickpea flour teams up with the orange of carrots in these pakora. Served with yogurt, they make a delicious snack.

Heat up several inches of oil (I used a mixture of olive and sunflower) in a medium-sized saucepan. For a small serving, mix 6 T of chick pea flour and 1 T of rice flour with enough water to get the consistency of thick mud. Add a finely grated small carrot, a big pinch of dried thyme, and salt to taste. To test if the oil is hot enough, insert the handle end of a wooden spoon in the centre of the pot. If ready, a steady stream of tiny bubbles will surround the handle. Carefully put teaspoons of the batter into the oil. Let cook for several minutes, then flip them over. I use a metal skimmer to do this. Cook for a minute or two more or till they are crisp and golden brown.

In the potager, the roma tomatoes are close to complete harvest, thusly their leaves are mostly yellow.

View from my office

A glint there, a glow here, all is suffused with mellowness.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lush Late Summer

Processing our garden produce is often accompanied by serenading insects. Their captivating chorus drifts through the open kitchen windows as I rinse, chop, simmer, and sieve. Their identity? Doubt they are the beloved cigales of southeast France. Or grasshoppers. My bet is the chirping being given freely as August heat envelops and dusk closes in belongs to crickets. In the last two weeks, thirty-six kilograms/eighty pounds of tomatoes have been turned into concentrate and sauce. I no longer skin tomatoes for sauce because after several hours of simmering they cleave off the tomatoes on their own accord. I just pick them out once the sauce is cooled. To make around 3 litres, in a large, non-reactive pot like stainless steel or enamelled, saute in a little olive oil 4 Toulouse sausages (Italian sweet can be substituted) which have been removed from their casings. Breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, stir for a few minutes, and then add 4-5 crushed, large garlic cloves. Keeping the heat low, rinse and quarter 7 kilograms/15 pounds of tomatoes. Add them to the pot as you work. Toss in 1 tablespoon of dried basil, several bay leaves, and a few scrubbed Parmesan rinds. Simmer, partially covered, for 3-4 hours or until the sauce is thick and luscious. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cool. Scoop out those skins. Portion. Freeze.

Though the tomato harvest is well past its peak, there are still quite a lot in the process of ripening on the vines.

When romas are ripe, they are fully and deeply red.

I quarter the romas. The crickets sing.

I have been meaning to get some Opinel knives for many a year which I finally have done so.  Only a French knife could boast of a denture velours (velvet teeth). It slices through food effortlessly.

Thinly sliced tomatoes? Some mozzarella remaining from making lasagna? Potted basil waving at you from a sunny window sill? It's a cinch to make caprese salad. Layer tomatoes and cheese. Sprinkle with olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with chiffonade of basil.

Now that I am somewhat on top of tomato processing, it's the peaches' turn, and then the plums'.

There still are strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries here and there which get sugared and topped with cream whipped by The Calm One.

Though my focus is on preserving the bounty of peaches of which I am guessing will amount to about twenty-two kilograms/fifty pounds, we still make room for fresh ones which are pitted, sliced, and topped with whipped cream.

The Calm One's social creativity is always a delight: suggesting that his sibling reunion take place in the large garden of the Huddersfield home in which they all grew up (across the street where the familial dwelling of James Mason once was) though the house now belongs to strangers (who would be invited, of course); getting our niece and nephew to go racing out on our balcony to see who would be the first to spot the faint footprint of the international space station slowly padding its way across the night sky; most recently, his listening intently with a thoughtful facial expression as I announced the passing of some hot air balloons, and then his softly saying, lets photograph the universe in a glass against the backdrop of the balloons

The universe in his hand

À la prochaine!