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Autumn is here, and it’s apple season again. The stands in my Greenmarket are spilling over with the abundant new crop. I counted two dozen varieties in a recent visit: from old standards like Cortland, Empire, Greening, Macintosh, Northern Spy, Rome, and Winesap, to some I’d never seen before, like Spartan, Snapdragon, Opalescent, and Zester. The Johnny Appleseeds of the world have been busy indeed.

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Just walking past the fragrant heaps gave me visions of apple pies and tarts, apple crisps and crumbles, apples baked and sautéed, apple fritters . . . all things I’ll be making in the fullness of time. But sometimes my apple craving can be satisfied with something much more modest than those treats: a simple apple compote.

The compote recipe I use is from my mother’s 1937 copy of America’s Cook Book. The recipe isn’t in a desserts chapter: It’s from “Fruits,” the very first recipe section in the book – which also includes recipes for avocados, kumquats, mangoes, papayas, persimmons, and quinces. At 1,000 pages, it’s an amazing book for its time.

For a little dessert for two, one recent evening, I made a compote with two crisp Braeburn apples.

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I peeled, quartered, and cored them, and dropped them into a bowl of cold water to wait while I prepared their syrup.
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In a medium pot I boiled a cup of water with half a cup of sugar for three minutes. The drained apple quarters went into the pot along with a small cinnamon stick.
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The next instruction was to cover the pot and simmer until the apples were transparent, which always takes longer than I expect it to. These particular apples weren’t very willing to cooperate at all, so when they began thinking about turning into applesauce I had to stop while they were only mildly translucent.
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Drained, they were very tender and not too messy looking. But next time I’ll try a different kind of apple, to see if the pieces will hold their shape better.
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To provide a bit of luxury, I topped our portions of compote with modest scoops of gelato. That’s stracciatella on the left, pistachio on the right. A sweet, light finish for a weekday dinner.

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It’s high peach season, and my Greenmarket is bursting with the fruits. Though I already have several easy recipes for peach desserts that Tom is always happy to eat on summer evenings (and often for the next day’s breakfast too), I enjoy looking for new ones to try. The recipe I found this week was somewhat misleading and didn’t come out at all the way I expected.

It’s called Peach Crumble Cake, and it’s from Lee Bailey’s book Country Desserts. The name was intriguing to me, because a crumble and a cake are normally quite different things. A cake, of course, is baked from a sweetened batter, and even if fruit is added, it comes out firm and sliceable. For a crumble, the fruit goes into a pan and is topped with a crumbly mixture of flour, sugar, and butter. When baked it’s spooned out for serving.

This particular recipe has a base of cake batter, with peach halves set on top. Okay, I thought, that seems like an easy enough kind of cake; I’ll just have to see how the “crumble factor” enters the picture here.

A glitch appeared as I noted the number of peaches the recipe required. For an 8-inch square pan, it wanted 10 large peaches, cut in halves. That was absurd: Even if each peach were only 2 inches wide, that size pan would hold only 16 halves – and most peaches are much larger than that. In any event, I didn’t have an 8-inch square pan, so I’d be using a 9-inch round one (the same capacity, per the πr2 formula). So I bought six peaches, each easily three inches across. I already had all the other ingredients.
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The preparations went smoothly enough. I creamed butter with brown and white sugar; beat in flour, baking powder, and eggs; and transferred the batter to my buttered cake pan.
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I dropped the peaches briefly into boiling water, drained and peeled them, and cut each one in half.
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From the amount of room they took up on my 11-inch prep board, it was clear that not all those halves were going to fit in my pan. And they didn’t. It took only seven halves, plus tucked-in bits of an eighth. I sprinkled them all with lemon juice and a mix of cinnamon and sugar.
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I expected that the cake batter would rise up and cushion the fruit, though I still couldn’t think how anything would become crumbly. However, the pan was already looking pretty full, so as I put it in a 350° oven, I made sure to set a baking sheet on a shelf just below it, in case the rising batter overflowed the pan. Which it did, in a few places.
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Baking time was a little problematic. The recipe said to bake one hour or until golden. My cake was golden after only 45 minutes, but the cakey part still tested very wet inside. At 10 minutes after the hour, when the crust was starting to darken to brown, my testing skewer finally came out clean. I pulled the cake out of the oven and set it on a rack to cool.
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Obviously, this was not the kind of cake that could be turned out of its pan onto a plate for serving. The recipe had no further handling instructions, so I thought I’d treat it like a pie and take slices straight from the pan.

Nooo, not that either. The missing “crumble factor” kicked in, but not in any way I’d expected: My attempted slices crumbled and fell apart at first touch. Also, the whole interior of the dish was extremely juicy – not to say soggy.

Well, all right: Since the cake had become this very moist crumble, I spooned it into bowls and served it with scoops of ice cream, as the recipe suggested. Texture aside, it tasted fine. It’s hard to hurt ripe peaches and sweet dough.
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But if I’d wanted a simple peach crumble, there are easier ways than this to make one. It was the crumble-cake combo that mainly interested me.  And, aside from the misnomer of calling this a cake, I think something was wrong in the recipe’s proportions: Though I used less than half as many peaches called for, the dish was far too wet. The sugar seems to have drawn so much liquid out of the fruit that the batter couldn’t firm up enough. And the crust would have blackened if I’d baked it longer.

So, for my next peach dessert this summer, I’ll go back to one of my tried and true recipes. The same book has a very good one for a peach cobbler that I’ve written about here before. And I have a recipe of my own for a “proper” peach cake, which I’ve also written about here.

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Back in May, when I wrote about dinners I’d had in Lyon, I mentioned a sweet-sharp condiment that was served alongside foie gras at Brasserie Le Nord. It was an odd, nubbly relish, with a flavor like nothing I’d ever had before, and made an interesting foil for the luscious, silky foie gras. Here’s what it looked like:
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When I asked our server what was in it, she had to go into the kitchen to find out. Returning, she said that, today, it was red onion, apple, pineapple, and celery. I’d never have guessed those! (Hmm: only today? Possibly different yesterday and tomorrow? Interesting.)

Back home, culinary curiosity demanded that I try recreating it for myself. I started with an internet search for “fruit condiments for foie gras.” Very instructive: There seem to be many such recipes, often quite complex, that I haven’t known about. However, none of them seemed as if they’d produce the texture I wanted.

Next I looked in my cookbooks for chutney recipes. That was more encouraging, because the basic approach to chutney is simply to chop the main ingredients, put them all in a pot, and cook them with some liquid and the desired seasonings until the mixture is as thick as you want it. So I assembled my four ingredients:
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Now, what proportion of each should I use? One onion gave me 2/3 cup, minced. Two stalks of celery, also 2/3 cup. One apple (quickly turning brown) gave me 1½ cups. And I took a whole cup of pureed pineapple, so there’d be plenty of juice in the mix.
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Wondering if it would be wise to cook the two vegetables by themselves at first to soften them a little, I divided each ingredient into halves and briefly sauteed half the onion and celery in butter. Then in two separate pots I combined the ingredients, the cooked vegetables and half the fruits in one, the raw vegetables and the remaining fruits in another.

What else should go in? I knew that Le Nord’s version didn’t have any Indian spices, but I had no idea what others there might have been. I decided to add only a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of apple vinegar to each pot – no other sweetener.
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Then I cooked both mixtures, covered, stirring occasionally, until they thickened enough to hold their shape, which took about 45 minutes. They came out looking very similar: the one with uncooked vegetables a little darker. (I do wonder what Le Nord used to make its version so red.) Both tasted fairly interesting, with almost no difference between them.
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Then came the fun part. We had a block of foie gras in the refrigerator (a gastronomical souvenir of the Lyon trip) just waiting for a chance to try the new condiment with. And we did.
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You can hardly see any difference in the two little heaps of – I still don’t know what to call it: relish, chutney, preserve, conserve, confiture? – but the slightly darker one is on the right. Both made a nice enough flavor and texture contrast with the foie gras, sweet and the merest touch piquant, soft and nubbly. I can’t say they provided any major enhancement, though. Foie gras is gorgeous enough on its own.

We tried some again another day with some good cheeses: same mixed result. The simple fact is, this little condiment is a lot of work, especially for the small quantity I could use while it was fresh enough: a restaurant’s dish rather than one to make at home. Still, it was an interesting experiment.

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Salade Lyonnaise

The deadly heat wave that scorched most of the US last weekend was my fault, I fear: The weather gods noticed that I’d just published a post saying summer in New York hadn’t been too hot yet. I’ll never learn!

So I’ve been back on the hunt for interesting new summer recipes. Today’s good salad dish came about by happenstance. For another kind of salad I needed frisée, which isn’t always available locally. Tom, doing the shopping, brought home the only head of it there was in any of our stores. The thing was gigantic: Even after using as much as I needed for that first dish, what remained was a great green wig more than 18 inches across.

 

Frisée is delicate, so I’d have to use it soon. Salade lyonnaise came to mind, since I’d enjoyed one recently during my cruise on the Rhône. It’s a dish of bitter greens and crisp bacon, an atypical vinaigrette, and the crowning touch of a poached egg.

Surprisingly, none of my cookbooks had a recipe for the dish, but the internet had many of them. One by Mark Bittman of the New York Times seemed like a classic so I took it as a model. For two portions I tore up enough of the palest friseé to fill two cups, tightly packed, and set it aside. Then I slowly crisped four slices of bacon in a skillet with a little olive oil.

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That was an error, as it happened. I was supposed to cut up the bacon raw, and I hadn’t paid attention. Not a problem, though: I took out the cooked slices, chopped them, and returned them to the pan, leaving in all the rendered bacon fat. Next I added a tablespoon of chopped red onion. That was twice as much onion as the recipe called for, but still a very modest amount.
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After a minute’s sauteeing, I stirred in two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and half a tablespoon of Dijon mustard to complete the dressing for the greens.

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For poaching the eggs, I used my regular technique (learned long ago from From Julia Child’s Kitchen.) A little fussier than Bittman’s, it turns out perfectly cooked fresh jumbo eggs in exactly 3½ minutes. Unfortunately, as can be seen below, this day one of my two eggs wasn’t fresh enough: the white spread out and partially slid away from the yolk, spoiling the oval shape.
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I slipped the eggs into cool water to halt the cooking and, since this was not for a company dinner, didn’t bother trimming off the unsightly bits. My bad. But they taste just as good as aesthetically pleasing eggs.
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I spread the frisée on two plates, tossed it with the rewarmed bacon dressing, and topped each with an egg. Here’s the portion with the nicer shaped egg:
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At table, after the usual family squabble over who should have the better-looking plate (This time Tom won; I got it), we each broke open our egg so the liquid yolk could mingle with the greens, and added salt and pepper to taste.
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Simply fabulous! I’d been worried that there might not be enough dressing to coat all the frisée, but it turned out to be a perfect amount. A vinaigrette with rendered bacon fat taking the place of olive oil is just wickedly good. A little more onion in the dish wouldn’t have hurt, and we both could happily have eaten a second poached egg on it. Even so, all the flavors came together in a luscious harmony, for a salade lyonnaise even better than the one our cruise ship had served.

Before the rest of my frisée wilts, I think I’ll be doing this dish again.

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We celebrated Independence Day this year by having good friends over for an American dinner. This was a bit of a menu challenge, since my palate, my pantry, and my parties mostly tend toward Italian and French. But I dug into my recipe collection and came up with an all-American lineup, while Tom dug into his wine storage for American wines.

We started modestly in the living room with aperitifs of Gruet brut, a champagne-method sparkling wine from New Mexico, with cocktail peanuts, cheese straws, and pickled herring to nibble on. I made the cheese straws with New York State cheddar, and the little tidbits of herring in mustard sauce were from Russ & Daughters on Houston Street, one of Manhattan’s many noted immigrant success stories.
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At table, our first course was a New Orleans favorite, Crabmeat Maison as served in Galatoire’s restaurant. I’ve written here before about making this luscious preparation for Atlantic blue-claw crabmeat. This day it paired beautifully with a 2016 Chenin Blanc from Paumanok Vineyards on Long Island.
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From there we moved to a rolled rib roast of beautifully rare beef, sourced from Ottomanelli’s of Bleecker Street, one more noted Manhattan immigrant success. This delicious centerpiece was accompanied by picnic-style vegetables: first-of-the-summer corn on the cob, new potato salad (I’ve written here about this too), a colorful heirloom tomato salad; and an ever-reliable three-bean salad, with black beans, kidneys, and chickpeas. The corn, potatoes, and tomatoes were from local farmers at my greenmarket. Our wine was a fine 2010 Petite sirah from California’s Ridge Vineyards.
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Even our cheese board held only US cheeses: Leonora, a goat; Harbison, a soft-ripening cow; Grayson, another cow; and one called Simply Sheep. All but the Grayson were new to us, and all were very good. With them we drank another excellent Ridge wine: 2010 Geyserville. (Tom has written about all these wines in his blog.)
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We concluded with small strawberry shortcakes, that quintessentially American summer dessert. Again, I’ve written about this classic recipe from the American Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. They were local strawberries, of course. This particular batch came out quite messy looking, but they tasted perfectly good.
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All that definitely made a Glorious Fourth dinner. For the final aspect of the patriotic theme, our evening’s music program was also all-American. The guests arrived to the tune of John Philip Sousa marches, and when they were all played, we listened to quiet jazz by Teddy Wilson, who, in Tom’s opinion, probably has the lightest touch of any jazz pianist ever.

Expressing patriotism is a tricky business these days, but culinary patriotism can win all available hearts, minds, and stomachs.

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Last week’s success with two simple strawberry desserts went to my head. Guess I should have known not to push my luck too far. But I’d found one more recipe that I wanted to try before the end of strawberry season. Somewhat more elaborate than the first two, this one, called Summer Pudding, is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, a book that has previously given me several good things.

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The dish is essentially a cooked mixture of strawberries and blueberries in a lavishly fruit-soaked bread casing. It was to be prepared a day in advance, chilled, and served with whipped cream. We like all kinds of normal bread puddings at my house, so this seemed like a very interesting hot-weather version. I gathered the ingredients for an experimental half recipe’s worth.
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While the berries, sugar, and grated lemon peel simmered for 10 minutes in a small pot, I assembled the bread casing in a two-cup soufflé dish. The bread was a bakery pullman loaf, with a crumb rather flimsier than that of my usual homemade white bread, so I had to slice it thicker than I’d have liked.
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I strained the cooked berry mixture, saving all the not-quite-syrupy juices and using some to moisten the floor of the bread.
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The berries went into the case and were topped with another round of bread, which I dampened with a little more juice, being careful not to thoroughly soak the side bread pieces yet.
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Then I had to put a weight on the pudding, wrap it tightly in film, and refrigerate it for 24 hours. Happily, a search through my kitchen cabinets turned up just the right size mini-cocotte lid for the weighting.
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Next day, the pudding unmolded readily enough and accepted further doses of the reserved juices to fully color the casing. Standing alone, it didn’t look all that appealing.
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The individual servings, topped with vanilla-flavored whipped cream, were more attractive.
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However, I can’t say we liked the pudding much. The berry flavors were good, but the overall texture was not: It was essentially just a fruit compote on too much soggy bread. Also, the recipe’s prescribed amount of whipped cream was barely enough to offset the acidity of the fruit and juice. I understand this is intended as a minimal-cooking summer recipe, but we’d have been much happier having those berries in a normal bread pudding.

Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Two out of three’s not so bad.

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What joys there are in strawberries, the first fruits of summer! Fancy dishes: strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream, strawberry tarts. And plain ones: a bowl of berries with sugar and lemon juice, or with cream. The local strawberries have been going strong this season, leading me to try a few new-to-me preparations with them.

I found two fine simple ones in the Fruits volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. Each book in this series is an eclectic treasure trove of recipes, reprinted with permission, from everything from classic to all-but-forgotten sources. More than 100 are cited in this volume, for instance. I’d never heard of either of the sources for my two new recipes.

 

Strawberries with Vinegar

Vinegar: odd ingredient for a dessert, I thought. The more so because the recipe comes from a book called The Cuisine of Venice (authors Hedy Giusti-Lanham and Andrea Dodi) and I’d never found another Venetian dish like it. The recipe’s explanations intrigued me, starting with the odd first step in the simple procedure: Put unwashed strawberries in a bowl and pour on wine to cover. I did that, using a cup of white wine and a pint of berries, for a half recipe to serve two.
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After five minutes I was to pour off the wine and discard it: It was there only to wash the berries. The recipe said washing with water dilutes their taste and makes them watery – not a problem I’ve ever been aware of. Still, there was some wine in my refrigerator that had been open for several days already, so “wasting” wine that way wasn’t too painful.

For serving, I divided the berries over two little bowls and added a teaspoon of distilled white vinegar to each, plus a sprinkling of powdered sugar. The recipe assured me that I wouldn’t be able to taste the vinegar; it would be overpowered by the berries, and its acidity would enhance their flavor and increase their sweetness.
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And in fact, that was exactly the case. The berries were delicious. The cookies you see accompanying the bowls of this hitherto-unknown Venetian preparation are traditional “esse” cookies from the island of Burano, a souvenir of my recent Venice trip.

 

Strawberries in Liqueur

This recipe, originally published in the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland, caught my eye because I happen to have all three of the liqueurs in the ingredient list – Armagnac, Curaçao, and kirsch. It’s another very simple preparation, and again I was halving the recipe to serve two.
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I hulled, washed (in water, this time!), and patted dry a pint of strawberries and mixed them in a bowl with half a tablespoon of sugar. Over them I poured a scant tablespoon of Armagnac and a scant tablespoon of Curaçao, then covered the bowl and refrigerated it for an hour..
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Next I whipped ¼ cup of heavy cream with about a teaspoon of sugar and added a scant tablespoon of kirsch. I gently folded that into the berries and returned the bowl to the refrigerator for another hour.

This was wonderful. When I transferred the berries to serving bowls, the liqueur had softened the cream into a luscious sauce, which coated the strawberries and blended yet another lovely, subtly spiced flavor to that of the chilled, fragrant fruit. Ambrosia!
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This dish goes into my repertory for as long as strawberry season and my supply of the three brandies lasts.

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