Category Archives: party food

Hawthornrose

Hawthorn & Rose Turkish Delights

I find this time of year to be a bit like a wave: if you fight it, you go down, most uncomfortably.

Everything is shifting. The air has started to fall. The euphoria of summer has been replaced by what, to some can feel like a vague discomfort, and to others outright melancholia.

Some people don’t have time to feel funny. These are usually the people who get their taxes paid long in advance, who know exactly how they feel about any given issue, and feel comfort in that position. They are the types who, on walking from point A to point B, will actually make it to point B at a predictable time. I’m not one of these people (though I often wish I were), and if you’re feeling funny at this time of year, I’d venture a guess that you’re not one of these people either. We oddballs, on walking from point A to point B will feel a change in the air and stop to observe it. We are the types who notice the way light hits things and the sound of the wind running through things. Honestly, all people have aspects of both, and I think we should be capable of both (and my very odd, point A->B brother would likely argue that paying taxes on time and being odd are not remotely connected), but we often tend towards one or another and, well, for the record I have never done my taxes long in advance. Which brings me back to the fall, and the air, and this time of year in general.

Some people like to say that the ‘veil is thinning’. I think that’s a beautiful and poetic way to describe it. I see it as what is hidden becoming un-hidden; some people talk about the spirit world at this time of year and yes, that has a lot to do with it, but it’s much much more than that too. This is the time of year that we become aware of what’s under the surface. Of what lies just outside our reach and our understanding. And that can be deeply, deeply unsettling. Combine that with the sudden and dramatic reduction of daylight hours, cloudcover, rain and chill. Combine that still with the falling of leaves, the rotting of leaves, and the general direction of everything heading into the ground: everything in the world points towards the one thing we never ever want to think of (death). Yes, those of us who are marching from point A (summer) to point B (the holiday season) are stopping and noticing that orange-yellow light and that slight waviness in the air and thinking ‘wait, what IS that?’. Like a wisp, just beyond our reach, there is a world of mystery out there- things far beyond our comprehension. Not knowing is scary. Not understanding is scary. And like normal human beings we dig our feet in.

Which brings me back to waves. Ride it, my friends, just ride it. Understand that it’s strange, and that everything is falling and that leaves are rotting. Understand what this means for us, too, and everything and everyone we know. Understand that its a part of a cycle, and that we are a very very small part of it. And understand that all we can do as tiny tiny pieces of a big and beautiful picture is to marvel at its intricate and delicate beauty, and if we’re lucky, maybe get to point B.

And as for the journey, hawthorn can help, pretty dramatically. It’s that fear of the unknown combined with a vague sense of melancholy that makes it spectacular. Long heralded as an aid for journeys into faerie land (you know, back in the times when people *ahem* actually believed in these things), it’s that dreaminess that makes it so spectacular during this time of year. You see its already there anyway. It’s like getting to an otherworld party a few hours late and everybody already knows each other and you just feel like standing at the edge of the room smiling at strangers who are all dressed a bit strangely and hoping that somebody comes to talk to you (or maybe hoping that nobody at all comes to talk to you), until a beautiful woman in a red dress and striped stockings separates herself from a large laughing group, sashays over with a mysterious smile, grabs your hand and says ‘come on, I’ll introduce you to everyone.’ Friends, meet Hawthorn.

A note on Turkish delights: There must have been an advert some time before I was born that depicted Turkish delights as something exotic and glamourous. I discovered this one day while hiking with my sister in law, when we found that our mothers both made the exact same facial expression when discussing them. Eyes half closed, gaze somewhere else, posture all of a sudden remniscent of somebody in a genie-costume laying on a chaise-lounge. For some reason this made me ridiculously happy. If anybody knows what this advert is, I’d love to know :).

Hawthorn & Rose Turkish Delights

Makes, well, a lot… any leftovers will be great gifts.

4 cups sugar

4.5 cups strained hawthorn decoction (boil about a cup of hawthorn berries in 5.5 cups water for 20 minutes, until the water is dark- strain. If too much, drink the rest; if not enough just add a bit more water)

2 tsp lemon juice

1 cup cornstarch

1tsp cream of tartar

2 tb rosewater

(2 tsp hawthorn (leaf berry or flower) elixir, if you have it)

(2 tsp rose elixir, if you have it)

extra cornstarch combined with icing/confectioners sugar, for sprinkling and dusting

 

Combine half the decoction (you can eyeball it) with the sugar and lemon juice, and heat them up in a bit pot, until its at a rolling boil. Boil it continuously for about 3 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, look for 240, but if not then 3 minutes should suffice nicely.

Meanwhile, add the cornstarch and cream of tartar to the rest of the hawthorn decoction. Whisk it all together until the cornstarch mixture has no lumps left, then heat it up until its boiling. It’ll bubble away and get quite thick.

When the cornstarch mixture is thick like custard, remove from the heat and slowly, steadily, carefully pour the sugar mixture into the cornstarch mixture, whisking continuously (having a helper is good, as is a Kitchen Aid or something similar, so that you can whisk it steadily. If you can’t, no biggie- you might get lumps. And if you get lumps, no biggie- throw it all in the blender for a minute or so). Now you have everything but the rosewater combined in one pot. Put it back on a low heat for an hour, giving it a stir every ten minutes or so. It’ll bubble and get thick. This is good.

Meanwhile, get your molds going. Any kind of square container will do- I used square jar lids (I store rice and polenta in them), but you can use square tupperwares if they’ve a flat bottom or a square baking dish, or, get creative). You can line the dish with plastic wrap, which will make removal much easier (for the record, I did not, as I am lazy, and I had no problems whatsoever). Using a sieve, dust the bottoms and sides of your containers with the cornstarch-icing sugar combination, then leave them to wait.

After an hour, remove your Turkish delights from the heat and stir in the rosewater. Taste it (careful, it’s very hot). It should be very rosy, with a hint of hawthorn. If you have the medicinal elixirs, at this point, add them and stir in- they’ll contribute to the flavour but also ramp up the medicinal quotient to make these sweets very dreamy indeed. If you don’t, it’s not a big deal, they’ll still be delicious and the hawthorn and rose combination will still be there. Pour the hot mixture into the molds, about 3/4 inch high. Smooth the surfaces, then place them in the fridge, uncovered, to cool.

When cool, turn them out onto a cornstarch/icing sugared countertop, and slice into cubes. Or rectangles. Dust them all with the cornstarch/icing sugar. They’ll keep in airtight containers for weeks, but I bet they won’t last that long…

(I’ve shared this post at the Wild Things Roundup over at Hunger and Thirst. Check it out here.)

rhubarb custard elderflower tart

Rhubarb and Elderflower-Infused Custard Tart

(on perfect pairings)

Lets talk about first world problems for a minute. There are some that I am ill-equipped to help with: things like ‘oh no, my new smart phone has a glitch’ or ‘I have too many computers’ or ‘my shiny car is sooohoooo last season’. But then there are areas where I can be quite useful. Things like ‘I don’t know what to wear’ or, in this case, ‘oh no, I have too much rhubarb’. Yes, friends, too much rhubarb is an area where I can be useful indeed. You see in the last two weeks alone, I have made rhubarb syrup, rhubarb compote and rhubarb fool (then all of these with rhubarb and strawberries combined, though I will admit to preferring rhubarb alone where you can taste all of its rhubarby glory, unadulterated with the sweetness of the strawberry). All of these I could gladly share.

But my crowning glory, the barb on my rhu, would have to be rhubarb, elderflower and custard tart. For what two things go better together than rhubarb and custard? Apples and blackberries? Lysander and Hermia (which would be the worst name ever, given its similarity to hernia)? Barbecues and beer? No, rhubarb and custard is one of those matches that, in my opinion, is star-crossed from the beginning. Were I the type of person who thought that the natural world existed solely for our disposal, I’d be inclined to also believe that rhubarb exists solely for the purpose of being paired with custard. But that’s like saying that a woman who is a good cook exists solely for the purpose of feeding her husband. As in, outrageous.

Over the past couple of years, my friend Butter and I must have sent each other close to a thousand emails. Some short, some long, the majority discussing food, herbs and foraging. It was a fated friendship- both of us were looking to broaden our horizons a bit- she to learn about how to her use foraged food for medicine, and me just starting to realise that wildcrafted herbs could also be edible. It spawned a Wild Things roundup, that Butter still does monthly, and countless ideas being tossed back and forth, of interesting and delicious ways to use wild foods and herbs, and a friendship of immeasurable value. Where Butter knows food, I know medicine. Where Butter is reliable and steady, I’m like a bouncy ball (ie. not very steady). Where Butter has almost unlimited stamina (like a turtle), I need a nap after a sprint (like a hare). We, in my opinion, make a really good pair. In one of those many emails last week, we discovered that we were both making a similar dessert (please re-read treatise on perfection of rhubarb and custardy things for explanation of how such things happened) and decided to post them together. A reunification of forces. Which makes me extremely happy. So here’s to friendship, and good ideas, and perfect pairings. Here’s Butter’s Rhubarb Elderflower Sour Cream Pie .<3

ps. If you do anything this week, make this tart. Your stomach and all your neighbours will thank you. Promise.

 

Rhubarb and Elderflower-Infused Custard Tart. 

1 portion basic sweet tart crust

1 lb rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup fresh elderflowers, or 1/4 cup dry
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1/4 cup tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla or a pinch of vanilla powder

 

Make up the tart crust in advance, placing it in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours before you roll it out. Roll it out and drape it over a 9″ tart pan, poke little holes in the bottom with a fork, then bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and beautiful.

Meanwhile, start the custard. Put the milk and elderflowers in a saucepan, and heat up the milk gently until it’s hot to the touch. Switch off and leave to steep for 30 minutes to an hour. The flavour of the elderflowers will infuse in the milk. Strain out the flowers, and return the milk to the pan. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, then start to heat again, until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the eggs until smooth. Add a couple of big spoonfuls of the warm milk to the egg mixture, give it a stir, then add back to the saucepan and return to the heat. Bring to a boil, slowly, stirring or whisking constantly- don’t let anything stick to the bottom. It’ll start to thicken. Once boiling, stir vigorously for about a minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Put it in a bowl, cover with cling film, and allow to cool completely.

Cut the ends off the rhubarb, and cut each piece so that its about 5″ long. More or less. Put all the rhubarb in a big pan, dust with the sugar, and sprinkle with water- about 1/3 cup for the whole lot. Put in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes, until the water is gone and the sugar has gone caramelly and the rhubarb is looking cooked but not mushy yet (if you have a distaster and it goes mushy completely, it doesn’t matter, just make a different design). Allow to cool.

With all your pre-cooked and cooled ingredients, assemble the tart. Spread the custard in a thick layer over the bottom of the tart, then decorate the top with rhubarb. You can serve it immediately, though I think it tastes better after a few hours.

 

Elderflower 1

Elderflower cordial

(dancing on the edges of things)

I remember the day I first fell in love with the elderflower: it was a hot Glaswegian summer day. I was sitting on my favourite grassy knoll, in the shade of a big craggy old hawthorn bush, with a bounty. All of my adventures involved a bounty of some kind, be it wood sorrel (no plant was safe), wild blackberries, or, in this case, chocolate chip cookies and soda. My soda of choice was usually sparkling apple cider, but, on that day, they were out of stock, and right next to that empty spot was sparkling elderflower.

It sounded old; like something my grandparents would have drunk years ago, before the war, on a sweltering hot August afternoon. Reasoning that Marks and Spencer never stock anything that doesn’t taste good, I bought it, placed it carefully in my backpack, then jumped on my bike.

Few things in life are as carefree as summer holidays when you’re young: two infinite-seeming months that stretch into the orange sunset, where the days last until 11pm (in Scotland at least) and the sound of sprinklers unleashed on front lawns ran into the late evening, with the squeals of delight carried on the smell of cut grass permeated the warm air that drifted in through the open windows. Between that yellow-orange glow and smell of hot grass, in the filing cabinet of my memories, on the other side of wild berries swollen, heavy, pregnant with purple juice, is the KCHHHHH sound of opening a bottle of elder fizz on a grassy knoll, with my bike, and an Agatha Christie book.

Elder flowers are fairy flowers. They dance on the edges of fields and woods and on the edges of worlds. Even their smell is somewhat lovely and somewhat pongy, at the edge of what’s normally considered ‘nice’. Glance through the shadows cast by those dancing umbels and, if you’re not really paying attention you can hear laughter and singing. True story. A day spent gathering elderflowers will cast you out of time somewhat. I like to think of this as a good thing. Not only that, but the tree in itself is a veritable pharmacy- the leaves and twigs make great blood moving salves, the flowers and berries are edible, and the berries are pretty much the best thing ever for flu season. So gather a ton of flowers (making sure you leave enough to turn into berries too!), and bring them home in a paper bag. Set aside some especially pretty umbels to dry for a flu-season tea, and then turn the rest into cordial. Because anything you need to do with elderflowers (except fritters) can be done with a cordial. Custards, drizzles, cocktails, meat glazes, and fizzes all stem from this little workhorse. Then make yourself some fizz, kick your feet up, watch the light change, and let yourself be transported back to the edge of a dream, where you found the flowers in the first place.

Elderflower cordial

2 cups elderflowers, removed from stems (roughly, don’t drive yourself crazy, just try and get most of them off) and de-bugged

6 cups sugar

5 cups water

Juice of 3 lemons

 

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and then remove from heat. Add the elderflowers and leave to cool. Heat up once more, adding the lemon juice, and allow to cool overnight, then strain out the flowers, squeezing to make sure you get all the syrup out. Pour into bottles and refrigerate. It’ll last months in the fridge.

 

Elderflower fizz

serves 2 gluttons, and 4 normal people

1/4 cup elderflower cordial

juice of 1 lemon

1 large bottle of sparkling water

 

Put all the ingredients in a decanter or big jar of some sort, add some ice, stir gently, and serve.

 

I’m submitting this post to the Wild Things roundup over at Hunger and Thirst for wild flower month!

 

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Blackberry and elderflower mojitos

I’ve been getting into this whole ‘drinking’ thing lately. I’m not a big drinker in general, usually- I mean, 4oz beer is enough to make me start acting very silly. Last time I had 2 beers I think I danced on a table. And the last time I had 3 beers I actually threw up for about 2 hours. Plus then there’s the foggy head and all the new friends that you make and I think that in general, I am better just having my quarter-glass of wine and let be at that.

But that was before I went to my friend’s wedding, where I had what can only be described as a ‘fuck it’ moment, and tried something that was called a mojito (which for the record is not pronounced ‘moh-jeye-toh’).

My lord.

Mohjeyetos are good.

I mean, regardless of the fact that I put on mouse ears and stole somebody’s bow-tie and danced for about 6 hours straight. Regardless of the fact that I ended up at a wedding afterparty. Me (and Jam) who kept looking at each other saying things like “WE’RE AT AN AFTERPARTY- WE’RE SO COOL!”, which, I know, negates any coolness. It was still delicious. It was minty and sweet (but not too sweet) and fizzy and made me think that I was sitting on a beach in Cuba, where they pronounce it right, and that I could actually speak Spanish (which I’d really like).

And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

So when Friday was swelteringly hot, I decided that I could think of nothing that I wanted more than to try making my own mojitos. Fancy flavoured mojitos at that. With elderflower and blackberry syrup.

By the way, this is easy.
And it turns out that I am quite lame, because when Lu came over to try my invention she said it tasted more like a delicious soda with a splash of rum. I had thought that was what a cocktail was but it turns out you’re supposed to be able to taste the alcohol. So she made her own. Which tasted like rum and made me feel sick. You can make whichever version you like.

Elder-blackberry syrup.

1 cup elder flowers

1 cup blackberries

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

 

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, add the blackberries and elderflowers. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the elderflowers. Steep until cool, then strain and bottle. It’ll keep in the fridge for months.

 

Elder-blackberry mojito

Makes 4, 16-oz glasses

4 tb elder-blackberry syrup

light rum- add to taste. For my lightweight version I used about a tablespoon. Lu used about 1/3 cup.

4 tsp light brown sugar

fresh mint leaves (about 8 fresh leaves for each drink)

4 limes, quartered

soda water

crushed ice

 

In the bottom of the glass, add a teaspoon of sugar, 4 quarters of lime, and the mint leaves. Using something sticky and poundy- I used my wooden thing for my juicer. The end of a spatula would do, as would the end of a thin rolling pin- start mashing it all together. You want most of the juice out of the lime, and the mint to be pretty beaten up so you get the flavour out. Then add the syrup. Fill the glass with ice, then add the rum, and top up with soda. Garnish with a straw and a warm evening.

 

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the proof

My first school in London was called St. Helen’s School for Girls. It was a Catholic school, where we learned things like how to hold a knife and fork properly, and how to eat like civilised human beings. Our lunches were different every day of the week, and we’d all walk to the cafeteria together, holding hands, and sit at long tables, where we’d be served, and expected to finish everything on our plates.

Which was great on mashed potato day. And awful on chicken-pineapple casserole day. In fact, that I still despise cooked pineapple to this day is entirely the fault of the St. Helens’ cafeteria staff, and the torture of being forced to finish every single bite on the plate. It wasn’t till years later that I realised I could throw things under the table, and that was long after the St. Helen’s days, and when I was sitting at a restaurant in the hills of southern Spain with my dad who was in a bad mood and insisting that I finish the quail on the plate in front of me. But, as a 6-year old, I was relatively free of these kind of clever things, and so I ploughed though, week after week. The worst part about those pineapple casserole days was the dessert. Bread and butter pudding, or bread pudding as it’s called in the States, was the bane of my existence. That smell of curdled eggs, the little wrinkled raisins, the thick slices of crap white bread. It made my stomach turn. It STILL makes my stomach turn.

And so imagine my surprise last night when I got back from a long sunset hike, and the thought crossed my mind that “I want bread pudding”. Where this came from, I have no idea. I hate bread pudding. I’ve been given the ‘best bread pudding in the world’ and refused to try it because the trauma runs so deep. But last night I wanted it, and I’m not one to ever ignore these urges.

This is a bare-bones pudding. I hate raisins in anything except fudge and christmas pud and Cadbury’s chocolate, so there are none. I also hate cinnamon in anything other than coffee. I mean, really hate it. Cinnamon has no place in desserts as far as I’m concerned, and I haven’t eaten an apple pie that I liked since moving to the states, except for the ones at French restaurants that are tarts, with no cinnamon. So there’s no cinnamon. No cardamom. No raisins. It’s basically bread and custard, which are two of my favourite things in the world, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

Bread is important- I use this soft fluffy sourdough that’s the only glutinous thing I can safely eat. If you have challah lying around, or a brioche, then I can’t believe you haven’t eaten it all yet and I’m slightly disappointed in you. But you can use those, they’ll probably be even better.

Oh, and one more thing. Start to munchum, the entire process took 35 minutes. 5 minutes of which is prep, 30 of which is sitting around, playing on twitter, and running back and forth to the oven to check to see if it’s ready. Or, you can throw it all in a bowl and put it in the fridge overnight, then bake them up in the morning for breakfast…

The proof is in the  [Bread] Pudding

4 ramekins or wee mason jars

3 thick slices of bread

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup cream

3 tb butter, melted

5 tb sugar

1 tsp vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cut the bread up into 1″ chunks and drop in the bowl of liquid stuffs. At this point you can refrigerate overnight, or just leave to soak for a few minutes. Spoon an equal amount of the mixture into the ramekins, and pour the remaining liquid equally over each one.

Cook for 25-30 minutes, until when pressed gently on top, no liquid comes out to burn your fingers. Serve with cream.

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Chocolate mousse

When I was growing up, we got chocolate mousse in yogurt pots. Creme caramel too, though we’re not talking about that today. I don’t think I had real chocolate mousse until long after I’d moved to the US. Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time. I only realised this morning, upon waking up with a chocolate hangover, that my first real chocolate mousse had been had at the age of 28 (at Hugo’s on Santa Monica Boulevard), and how sad that was. And that maybe I’d better make up for lost time by having it for breakfast as well.

Chocolate. Cream. Butter. Eggs. You cannot go wrong with a combination like that. And it might look fancy, but it’s not- the chocolate mousse is a humble dessert that can be whipped up in 20 minutes or so while your duck is finishing roasting (I speak from experience).

I decorated each little pot with a strawberry, but honestly, I might next time just chill it in a big bowl, then dollop it in each dish with a handful of little sweet berries. Because it’s delicious like that.

 

Chocolate Mousse

From the Bouchon cookbook. Kinda adapted.

3.5 oz dark chocolate.

3.5 oz milk chocolate (I use Green and Blacks for both and they’ve never failed me).

1 1/2 cup heavy cream.

3 tb butter

3 eggs, separated

2 tb coffee

3 tb sugar

 

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, chocolate and coffee. If you’re at risk of burning it, use a double boiler. Remove from heat, and whip the cream to stiff peaks. Do the same for the egg whites. Refrigerate both until the chocolate mix is slightly cooler- like cool enough to dab on your bottom lip without uttering obscenities. Then mix in the egg yolks, one by one.

Gently fold in a third of the cream. Then half the egg whites. Then another third of cream. Then the other half of egg whites. Then the rest of the cream. Pour into individual ramekins or one big bowl. Chill for at least 2 hours- preferably 8. If you’re impatient like me you can eat it as fluffy pudding, but it’s not quite the same.

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Blackberry-Elderflower Galettes

I will not complain about this weather.

I won’t. A month ago I wrote something on Facebook about how I hated the heat. How I was eating a watermelon in my underwear and sweating and was in a very very bad mood about the whole thing. Then a friend on the East coast said that she’d just had yet another snow storm. And I realised that I was being a brat. So I went out into the garden and lay out in my bikini and fell asleep at a weird angle and ended up with a red stripe down one half of the front of my body that looked more like a chemical burn than anything that could happen to someone who fell asleep in their garden. And then I went and got my hair cut and Casey brushed all the tiny bits of hair off my neck and I thought I was going to punch him in the face (raw neck + rough towel= pain). Hot weather puts me in a bad mood.

So I prayed for a cold front. And the cold front came. It’s been raining on and off ever since, and we’ve put the heating on three times. And my bones feel cold. And I will not complain.

Did you ever play those games when you were a kid. The ‘would you rather’ games. Where you’d ask yourself if you’d rather be too hot or too cold for the rest of your life? Someone once asked me if I’d rather go to the toilet out of my mouth or have my mouth look like a dog’s bottom. Really. I still think about it sometimes, and then, thankfully, remember that we don’t ACTUALLY have to make these decisions in life. Anyway, I choose cold. You can always turn the heating on or put on an extra layer of clothes. You can’t remove your skin to cool off. I’m sure that there are arguments for both sides, but I’ve always been a winter girl. I love the silence of it all, the solitude, the darkness and the depth. I love to ski. I love to look out over a white-washed landscape. I love snow days, even though grown-ups don’t get them. And in Southern California, I love standing on an empty, rainy beach, looking out to the stormy sea, while my skin is pink with cold and the water feels warm in comparison. Salt water splashing into my face never tastes so good as those winter days.

And maybe it’s because I moved to Southern California, where it’s summer that feels like death. Where the heat makes everything wither and die, but I dread the summer. Everything grinds to a halt, and the air hovers in that almost mirage-like cloud and the pavement feels like it’s going to crack to pieces like a dried up river bed. These last few days of spring, rain and freezing cold included, I want to savour for as long as possible. To sink into my sweaters and keep that extra blanket on the bed for as long as I can. Because I know what’s coming, and that I’ll hate it, and complain about it. Be warned, dear reader, the next few months of watermelon recipes will be accompanied by a subtle undertone of “whyyyy”, and you might start thinking me a little annoying. I promise I’ll come up with some good recipes to compensate.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe to help hold on to the spring.

Elderflower and Blackberry Galettes

1 portion tart crust

1 cup fresh elder flowers

1 cup heavy cream

3 tb sugar

1 egg

2 egg yolks

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cornstarch

blackberries

 

Make the pastry and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. Meanwhile, make the custard. Put the elderflowers in the cream, and heat to just below boiling. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Reheat, strain out the flowers, and pour the cream back in the pan. Add the sugar and vanilla. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then add a cup or so of the hot cream mixture and whisk it all together- then add the eggs back to the cream. Turn the heat on to medium, add the cornstarch, and heat the mixture gently, stirring constantly with a spatula so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When it starts to bubble, heat and stir for another minute or so, then remove from the heat. If it’s lumpy you can strain it, but I usually skip that step (More clean up? No thanks.). Allow to cool.

Roll out the pastry into a few large circles. Into the centre of each pastry circle, place about two tablespoons of the custard, then a handful of berries on top. Fold up the pastry around the mixture and transfer to a baking sheet. Do this with the remainder of the ingredients, then cook at 350 for about 30 minutes- or until the crust is golden brown and you cannot restrain yourself any longer. Serve with cream.

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California Lamb

I never knew how much I loved silence until I moved to Los Angeles. From Palm Desert where I’d lie on the floor of my favourite canyon and just listen to the desert hum, to LA where, for the first few months, I’d sleep with ear plugs and a pillow over my head because the noise was just so intense.

Silence. I love it. Crave it actually.

So I go gathering plants- where I get to walk for hours without encountering a single person, and to hear the birds and the bugs and the wind without hearing voices or cars or sirens. These things make me insanely happy. I’ll bring a snack, and find somewhere nice to have a picnic (usually on top of a nice rock or up a friendly tree), and then take my bag of goodies home and spend a few hours processing- hanging things to dry, stripping bark, making tinctures, whatever is in order.

Have you ever been walking in the mountains of Southern California in the spring? We have all of these insanely fragrant plants- the salvias and the artemisias and wild cherry blossoms and grapes, and redroots, and it all mixes together into this heavenly, heady perfume. You can get high on the smell of spring- believe me, I’ve done it. And it occurred to me while I was out walking that this is where regional cuisine comes from. When I was walking around in India, some of these herbs that we pay a fortune for were just growing there by the side of the road. Same goes in France or in Italy– in fact that’s why the different regions of these different countries have such varied food traditions. They were the original foodies, these people who couldn’t travel very far, and made do with what they had. Regional cuisine comes from the weeds that grow around you. I think that’s kinda cool.

I’ve written about this before, a long time ago, but I can’t for the life of me find the post. So I’ll rephrase for those of you who haven’t read your way through my archives. Before this country was a melting pot of people from different cultures who wanted to recreate the dishes from the places they grew up in, there was a culture of people who had their own regional cuisines. Land-based ones just like everywhere else. I’m not suggesting that we go and appropriate Native American cuisines now (since that would be kinda silly), but that we build our own food cultures based on what we have.

I’ve been making this herb mix lately. It’s a lot more hassle than, say, going to the store and picking up a jar of Herbs De Provence, but I tell ya, there’s something magical about the process of gathering and drying, and eating something that tastes like the mountains you love. I’ve called it ‘Herbs De Californie’, because I’m unoriginal. But it’s amazing- black sage, white sage, lemonade sumac berries, rose petals, and, when I have it on hand, bee balm (it only grows in one spot in California, and my garden supply is low). And I’ve been using it on everything- chicken, steak, lamb chops, and just as a tea because it’s that yummy on its own.  And a few days ago, I roasted a lamb shoulder.

And, please excuse my language, but this is the shit. One 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder– it’s a pretty cheap cut as far as lamb goes. Full of delicious fat, and enough for 4 hungry people. I made it with lentils, but you can always just reserve the cooking liquid for something else.

California lamb and lentils

1 3 1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder

6 cloves garlic

1/4 cup herbs (I use Herbs De Californie. You can get creative with your own combination of local herbs or, if you’re booorring, just use Herbs De Provence, though I guarantee it won’t blow your mind nearly as much ;) )

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup beef stock

 

2 cups french green lentils

1 onion, chopped

1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tb olive oil

 

Make little incisions over the lamb, and insert the garlic cloves whole. Then, sprinkle all of the cracks and crevices with your herb mix, finishing by patting down the outer surface with what’s left. Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top.

Preheat the oven to 250. In a casserole dish, warm the oil, and sear the roast on each side until golden brown. Discard the cooking oil, and place the lamb back in the pot, with the stock. Cover and cook for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, pour the onions and lentils into the cooking liquid (which should be plenty- if there’s not much you might need to add some water, or less lentils). Re-cover, raise the temperature to 350, and cook for another hour.

Remove the lid, and check the lentils. Are they tender enough? Remove the lamb and set aside (covered in tin foil, to rest), and put the pot back on the stove top on high to evaporate off the rest of the liquid. Once finished cooking, stir through the chopped parsley, and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Put the lamb back on top and serve, or slice and serve separately.


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Pushpa’s lemon rice

I’m in India. South India, to be specific. Mysore, to be even more specific. I’ve been wanting to come here for years, and was getting so sick of seeing my [lovely] sister post amazing photos of all the stuff she was seeing, that I booked a ticket to come out here myself.

So far, I’ve been on sensory overload. The colours and the smells and the tastes. Mysore smells of cow poo and of incense. Of curry and of dirt. Of jasmine flowers and of car exhaust. It’s truly amazing. Magical, even.

I’m staying at Pushpa’s house. My sister, Lou, met Pushpa a few years ago, her first time in Mysore. She was wandering down the street, getting frantic because it was getting dark, and she still had nowhere to stay. Desperate, she collapsed on the ground in front of a big statue of Ganesha, and said “Oh please, Ganesha, help me find a place to stay.” Not ten seconds later, a hand touched her shoulder, and a woman said “Are you looking for a place to stay?”. And that was Pushpa. She stays with Pushpa for months at a time, and Pushpa cooks for her, and looks after her like a mummy.

So naturally, I stayed here too. She’s a drill sergeant in the kitchen, that Pushpa– we’re not allowed to touch anything at all, only watch. Imagine how hard that is for somebody who loves to cook…But it’s worth it. Her food is phenomenal. The best food I’ve tried here, even after going to a few places that are supposedly “the best”. I’ve been watching her prepare every meal, while she tells me what she’s doing, and I frantically take notes and photographs. She’ll give me tidbits like “add asafoetida for good health” and “fenugreek is for diabetes” and “never mix curd and dairy” (even though curd IS dairy), and I am just completely transfixed by the whole thing.

I have a few favourites: idli, covered with ghee, with a coconut sambar. Dosas. And lemon rice. Lemon rice is just amazing. It’s lemony and coconutty and has little crunchy bits (the peanuts). Usually I avoid peanuts– I actually hate them. Passionately. But these peanuts are little and cute, not big and gross. They’re quite delicious in a dish where you barely taste them.

If you can’t find little Indian peanuts, I’d try chopping peanuts, if you like them, or using another nut, like almonds or pistachios, just for the crunch. If you can’t find curry leaves, try basil– they’re still fragrant.

Pushpa’s Lemon Rice.

Serves 4

2 cups rice

4 cups water (preferably NOT Indian tap water)

3 tb ghee, for frying

1 tsp mustard seeds

1/2 cup peanuts

1 cup yellow lentils

1/2 cup white lentils (if you can’t find then just use all yellow)

green chilis (to taste)

1 tb chopped curry leaf (substitute basil if you can’t find it)

1/2 tsp asafoetida

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tsp turmeric

1 cup grated coconut (if you can find freshly grated, even better, if not then soak overnight in water to rehydrate)

Cook the rice– put the rice and water, plus a pinch of salt, in a pan, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, undisturbed. After 20 minutes remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Fry the mustard seeds in the ghee, until they start to pop. Add the peanuts and lentils, and cook until starting to brown, then add the chili, curry leaf and asafoetida. Cook until all the lentils are a golden brown colour, and then add the cilantro, lemon juice, turmeric and coconut. Stir for 20 seconds or so, then remove from the heat and leave until the rice is cool.

Mix the two together, and serve. It’ll keep for a few days, refrigerated.

If you’d like to be privy to all my Indian adventures, add me as a friend on facebook. I am Rebecca McTrouble. Nice to meet you.

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The best tart ever

It’s so common in the UK to see apples and blackberries together. They’re kind of a perfect combination. Alone, they’re great, but together, there’s this magical alchemy that makes you wonder if there maybe is some kind of design behind this whole existence thing. Yeah, I know… the human body is amazing, the complexities of the universe are beyond comprehension, blah blah blah. The things that make me wonder about what’s out there are food combinations; words being pieced together just-so; and colours.

Of course, it might be because it reminds me of my youth. Of picking blackberries by the side of the road, and apples from the apple tree in the garden. Of the nights getting longer. Which, in Glasgow, by the way, means getting dark before 4pm. Of walking to the school bus in the dark in the mornings. Of cold feet. And cold toes. Cold feet. I wonder what came first: the idiom or the character trait. Or maybe one day, somebody was on her way to her wedding, and her feet got so cold that she just couldn’t bring herself to go any further, and she ran all the way back home to put on some thick wooly socks and to sit in front of the fire grilling hot buttered toast on a cast iron poker while the snow fell and while her husband-to-be got increasingly nervous. I wonder if a messenger ran back to the wedding to call “Wedding’s off– the lady got cold feet.” and if that was that.

Or maybe it’s something easier. Maybe somebody was going to go swimming, but upon dipping his toes in, decided not to. “Why didn’t you swim, boy?” “Because I got cold feet, sir!” And once again, that was that. This is what I think about while I’m peeling apples. While my feet are wrapped in thick wooly socks. While a batch of lemon marmalade stews away on the stove. While the rain pelts the awning and the crack under the back door lets in that chilly air, and while Oliver the girl-cat winds herself around my [not so cold] ankles.

And I was going to make a caramel-apple tart. But I changed my mind. I had blackberries and I was nostalgic, and…

I don’t know how I’ll ever beat this.

Crispy flaky tart crust with tart apple and little explosions in your mouth of blackberry.

This tart was perfect. Even with a gluten-free crust (which, by the way, the neighbours, who got half of it, couldn’t believe was gluten-free after they’d finished it and I told them).

Apple and Blackberry Tart

3 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into thin slices

8oz blackberries

1/2 portion of tart crust (can be made with gluten-free flour mix)

Sugar, for dusting

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350.

Roll out the pastry, and line the bottom of a 9″ tart pan. Lay out the apple slices in concentric circles, to cover the bottom of the tart. Evenly place the blackberries on top (or do as I do and dump them and they’ll roll all over the place evenly distributing themselves).

With the remaining dough, cut into strips, and lay out five strips all facing in one direction on top of the tart. Lay out 6 facing in the opposite direction, and then weave them, carefully. Pinch off the edges to seal.

Beat the egg, and brush it over the pastry. Dust the tart generously with sugar, and place in the freezer for approximately 20 minutes.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and you can’t restrain yourself any longer.

This post is shared at the HEARTH AND SOUL BLOG HOP, where Alex is giving away free coconut oil!!! And at Pennywise Platter Thursday.