My friend, Kendra McKnight, came over to my house and she baked the most beautiful French apple tart. I made a little movie about it.
We grilled tacos in the Catskills this weekend. There was skirt steak from the Applestone Meat Co, Chris’s pickled red onions and salsa, friends brought rhubarb margaritas (genius), kids ate cheese quesadillas and guacamole. We may never grill burgers again.
I returned from a week photographing a cookbook in Montreal and decided to spend a month cooking French food. I turned to a book that is already on my bookshelf: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
These photos are not examples of what the recipes should technically look like – only what they did look like. But I am excited. The stock that simmered on my stove for two days, eventually became Glace de Viande (meat glaze). We reduced a tablespoon of that glaze with wine and shallots and made Beurre Marchand de Vins (Shallot Butter with Red Wine). We put slabs of it on an inexpensive cut of beef, and transformed the steak into a delicacy.
I am really loving preparing simple ingredients in a different way than my standard, and creating entirely new flavor profiles. I make soup all the time. But Soupe au Pistou (Provencal Vegetable Soup with Garlic, Basil & Herbs) is a fresh take in my kitchen.
I am working on my baking. Now that I have made “cream puff paste,” I will use that basic recipe and make gnocchis.
We hosted Easter weekend for some grown ups and a trio of children. Here are some food memories… Thank you to Kendra McKnight for making mince-meat tarts, home-made raspberry marshmallows, charcuterie, French 75s, lakeside grilled leg of lamb with yogurt-garlic sauce, and so much more. She even delayed her family’s morning departure so she could teach me step-by-step her favorite pie crust recipe.
In these deep days of winter, I have been playing around with food motion. It is so much fun. I am becoming obsessed. Here is one video I made, it is a recipe for shrimp scampi, which my husband cooked in honor of the most delicious wild-caught shrimp we found at a local butcher shop. It’s a very simple recipe. It is quick to cook, and it is rich and delicious with crusty bread or pasta. See this video, and a few other examples of food in motion over at my website, www.jennifermay.com
On a chilly day in January, I made preserved Meyer lemons. I will give them a shake every day, and in about three weeks they should be ready. I am collecting recipes for pasta, gremolata, roasted potatoes, relish and fish dishes. I am excited to see what new dimension this condiment will bring to the food we cook at home!
Scott noticed them first. “Come here,” he said, beckoning with his finger. “Did you see these?” He pointed to a fig tree in the front yard of our rented house. The figs were just beginning to ripen, and he had picked some to roast with blue cheese, honey & walnuts. After few more days of heat, more figs ripened. Then they began to over-ripen. Sap oozed from their bottoms. “Better use these,” Craig said. He picked a soft one and ate it on the spot.
I had been trying to keep my daughter off of the tree’s slender branches, but once she realized the prizes were fair game, up she went. We picked a basket full, and I roasted them for breakfast. Simple, if you’ve got a tree full of fresh figs nearby. Recipe below.
Honey Roasted Fresh Figs, with Ricotta:
Fresh figs, halved
Butter, a couple of tablespoons
Honey, a couple of tablespoons
Kosher salt, a pinch
Fresh ricotta, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Lay the halved figs, cut side up, in a baking dish. In a separate pan, melt the butter, honey & salt. Drizzle the syrup over the figs. Roast for 10 – 15 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Serve with fresh ricotta, drizzle on the sauce.
When my brother, Ryan, walks through a forest, he carries a machete. He has spent a great deal of time in Brazil, and there are dangers in those forests greater than brambles. Here in Canada, on Hornby Island, my brother uses his machete to carve out trails through a second-growth forest that had been logged, farmed, and left fallow for decades. My brother is remaking this forest.
Bit by bit, he will make room amongst the standing trees for the new ones he has collected. He has a small fenced area he calls the nursery, and in it are 100 varieties of apple and nut saplings.
He emailed an apple tree catalog to our family in February asking for help narrowing down the choices. But in the end, he grafted one of each. They have names like Pendragon, which is a 12th century red-fleshed cider apple from Wales. There is Kandil Sinap, from Turkey circa 1880, with creamy, yellow porcelain-like skin and a cylindrical shape. The crab apple Wickson is said to be so prolific that the small yellow and red apples will garland a tree with fruit.
I grew up in the forests across the water from Hornby Island. I used to look out my bedroom window, through tall pines, across the Georgia Straight, past Denman Island and the Chrome Island Lighthouse, all the way to Hornby Island. It took two ferries to get there. When I fished with my grandfather, we would jig for cod around its perimeter.
My family has an anchor on Hornby Island now. We visited this July. “What do you want to see?” My brother and sister asked me. “Wild edibles,” I answered.
My brother grabbed his machete, and our small troupe followed him into the woods. We walked through grove after grove of salal. My sister and I picked a basket of the berries and I made a shrub, aka drinking vinegar. This acidified syrup is my summer theme. I have been drinking it in sparkling water. I also made a salad dressing with it, substituting a couple tablespoons of shrub for the sweetness and vinegar I might have added.
Salal berries are a highly localized plant, native to the part of the world where I grew up. I remember them, although I did not eat them. Their dark purple and plump berries are appealing looking, but eaten fresh they are bland and mealy. Heat and a little sweetness brings this fruit to life. I did not believe in tricks like that when I lived here.
I will wait for the apple and nut trees to mature. Plants grow fast in the west coast. I will be back, and often.
This July 4th we were invited to spend the weekend in a pre-Revolutionary house on the other side of the Hudson River. We picked snap peas and flowers at Hearty Roots Farm, blueberries at Grieg’s Farm, and we stumbled upon an undisturbed thicket of black raspberries.
We admired the historic details in the old mansion, known as the 1773 Calendar House. One night, our host filled two enormous brass candelabras with white tapers, poured wine, and told us tales of the Livingston family who used to own the home. We ate in the once-grand dining room, and imagined the time when the house served as a meeting place for Generals of the American Revolution.
As for the picking, I have heard about black raspberries (aka blackcaps) for years but, until now, I have never found or tried them. Not 10 minutes after seeing a beautiful image of them on the Instagram account of the Catskill Native Nursery, we stumbled upon a huge patch. The entire edge of the long and winding driveway at the Calendar House was bordered by bushes loaded with fruit. My friend and I picked the ripest ones, and we transformed them into fruit shrub, aka drinking vinegar.
A shrub is an acidified fruit syrup. Invented before refrigeration, shrubs were originally intended as a way to preserve fruit past the growing season. I have spent most of June making them… strawberry shrub from the ripest strawberries, blackberry-raspberry shrub, and black currant shrub using berries from my garden. The ingredients are berries, sugar, and vinegar. The ratio is approximately 1:1:1. A heated shrub takes about 15 minutes to make. A raw shrub takes about two days, but you don’t have to do anything to it but wait. Here is a page with great information and recipes for shrub making, Here is another one on Food52.
For a refreshing summer drink, I like to splash about a tablespoon into a glass of sparkling water and ice. Shrubs also blend deliciously with spirits for a stronger cocktail.
As for the rest of the weekend, there are so many other little stories to tell. Little stories of life, mirth, and silliness. The morning of July 4th we crossed the river again, and prepared a pizza party for family and friends. But that is another story. Brick pizza oven reveal to come in a following post.
Last year I bought two tiny elderberry bushes from the Catskill Native Nursery, and planted them in a bare patch in my garden. This year they are 10′ tall and loaded with elderflowers. Eventually, I would like to make elderberry syrup, which is a potent anti-viral. But, I have some traveling to do this summer, and it is is possible the precious elderberries will be gobbled by birds before I get to them this year. Still, I wanted to do something special with this amazing plant. So I made elderflower cordial.
Elderflower cordial is simple to make. It requires only the beautiful flower heads, water, sugar, optional citric acid, and the zest and juice of lemons. You can also add orange zest and juice, which I did, for the color. My batch combined two recipes. One is from the River Cottage, and another from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.
There is one funny thing about elderflowers. They are either a super-food or potentially toxic. Searching “health benefits of elderflowers” reveals that they contain bioflavonoids and are antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. Searching “are elderflowers toxic?” tells us the stems and leaves of the elderberry plant contain a cyanide-producing chemical. To put this in context, almonds also contain a cyanide-producing chemical. And we all know rhubarb leaves are toxic, while the juicy stems are delicious. To prepare elderflowers for infusion, you snip away all of the stems and branches. Problem solved.
Still, I tend to err on the side of caution, especially with something new. While I did serve the cordial at a recent cook-out, my cautionary words ensured I had only one unfazed sipper (besides myself). “Well” he said, “They sell it at Ikea.”
Cyanide and box stores aside, elderflower cordial is one of the most aromatic beverages I have ever made or consumed. It is delicate, and seasonal, and I like to think loaded with healthful properties.
This weekend I went on a foraging walk with Dina Falconi. She is the author of the beautiful book, Foraging & Feasting. The walk was a 2-hour introduction to the process of identifying plants. We learned about looking at the macrocosm (the environment) before looking at the microcosm (the plant). We learned about identifying characteristics, leaf and stem patterns, textures, size, and of course the flower. Dina showed us how to crush a leaf and smell it. She showed us how to carefully taste it, if we are not sure.
We spent most of our time with a few edible weeds we found growing at the perimeter of the Berkshire Botanic Garden… garlic mustard (which I was recently introduced to), Gill-over-the ground (eating this helps to draw out heavy metals from the body), and dandelions (the petals! I have to eat the yellow petals).
It was a wonderful morning. And I’m hungry for more.
I am learning to forage, and I am exploring garlic mustard greens. This green grows everywhere. I spot it on the roadside, along my driveway, and in disturbed areas of my garden. I used to pull and compost it as a weed, but this spring, I am pulling it and carrying it into my kitchen. So far, I have eaten it raw, as a pesto, and chopped up into soup. Word is, mustard greens are nutritious. They are also invasive. So, pulling them and eating them solves two problems.
Below, patches of wild mustard greens thrive on slopes around my yard. And my girl, helping to prepare this weed for the kitchen.
Wild thyme, which grows in patches around my yard, prepped for the soup.
An Italian-inspired soup of white beans, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, potato, wild thyme, orzo pasta, and wild mustard greens. The strong flavor of the greens mellows when simmered for a few minutes. They lose the bitterness that is strong when eaten raw.
For my Italian inspired white bean, pasta, and greens soup, I used a couple of sample bottles of a lovely olive oil grown and produced on an Italian villa, and sent to me by my friend who lives there.
Pesto made with roasted walnuts, wild mustard greens, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan. Full recipe by Ian Knauer, and more information about these greens, here.
This Easter weekend, we hosted friends and family. Kendra, Joost and their boys joined us from Boston. It’s always a food event when Kendra is around. She is a food stylist I have worked with many times, and when not cooking for the camera, she is cooking for the people she loves. As she and her family traveled from Boston, and I and my family traveled from Brooklyn, Kendra and I texted each other details of the weekend’s menu. She simultaneously texted her friend Jeremy, who sent his favorite recipe for Eastern European goulash, along with an entire printed page of hacks and additions.
We continued to discuss the menu over wine that night. One difference between myself and Kendra is in how we were raised. She is a French-Irish-British hybrid, and was raised in France and Quebec. Her parents excelled at impromptu entertaining – lots of food, lots of libations. As for me, I was raised on a remote property, on an unpaved road, at the ocean’s edge on Vancouver Island, and I don’t remember my parents hosting anyone, ever. We ate well because we ate fresh seafood we caught from the sea, and we grew big vegetable and berry gardens. We never had wine or beer in the house. My grandparents, with their Irish & Russian roots, liked to whoop it up in their younger days (their 50s & early 60s), but later, entertaining became a hassle.
“And what about the flow of the day?” I asked Kendra. I had the night-before jitters. She sipped her wine. “We’ve got this,” she answered. “And let’s have Jim create a house cocktail.”
The menu would be Hungarian Goulash – the meat browned indoors on the stove – and then simmered low and slow over a small fire outside, served with buttered egg noodles, boiled new potatoes with parsley, a composed salad, and an array of vegetable dishes brought by Chris’s parents. Chris’s mom also brought a trifle with orange custard, and sugar cookies she had decorated with a bunch of little girls earlier in the week.
My brother-in-law James was a bartender in Manhattan for many years, and is now a manager at Mother’s Ruin. He created a cheerful Easter cocktail of pear nectar, rosemary-infused agave, vodka and bitters. It paired very well with the shrieks of young children clamoring in the sandbox and chasing jumbo bubbles across the lawn. And it steadied my nerves as I watched my 4-year-old submerge her entire hand into the egg dyes along with the hard boiled eggs.
Guests arrived. I prefer to be involved in a social event with a co-host who thrives in the situation. While I love to host, it doesn’t come naturally. I create lists, plot it out, figure out the serving dishes. It’s also a timing thing, reading the vibe of the crowd, predicting appetites and thirsts. Sometimes I think everyone must be starving. Other times I can’t believe anyone is hungry at all. Kendra carried a roasted beet tart outside, and I followed her. I planned to photograph the tart out by the fire, but I was delayed at the Easter egg painting station, and a few minutes later, the tart had been devoured.
It was a great night. We set out the food buffet-style. People helped themselves. We ate, we drank, and then Kendra and I toasted each other late into the night, around the campfire.
The next day, we headed to our favorite park in the Catskills. We roasted sausages and left-over new potatoes. Our friends brought bread they had made that morning. We set more jumbo bubbles flying and the children chased them. We walked off the meals, got some air. Later that night, Kendra emailed from the road back to Boston. “It was a perfect weekend. What are we cooking over the fire next?”
Salad rice bowls are taking the place of bread and cheese sandwiches in my kitchen this week. I am looking for a lunch formula that is fast and nutrient-dense. The inspiration came from two places. First, I spent a day photographing a new cafe at Google headquarters. In this cafe, plant based foods are the star, with meat & dairy as highlights. Nibbling and tasting through the shoot was one of the healthiest and restorative food days I’ve had in months. Then there was the Healthy-ish January issue of Bon Appétit. There is an article about preparing an exciting mise en place, and then mixing it up all week. It’s so simple. It got me thinking.
I do not like cooking when I’m hungry, I like cooking in advance of hunger. So this weekend, I prepared the pieces. They could be anything, really, but I wanted four distinct sections: protein; fresh veg; flavor-packed sauce or dressing; and rice or other whole grain carb. All the components are pre-prepared, except for the rice. I will drop that into the rice cooker an hour before I eat, so it’s fresh.
Above is what my mise en place looked like, and below are some of the star components. What I love about this system, is the potential for variety. I love making flavor-packed sauces, and often have a bit of something left over in the fridge. The proteins could be chopped chicken, or bacon bits, any kind of fish, tofu, any other kind of bean, or any kind of roasted nut or seed. The carb could be any kind of rice, quinoa, or millet, or rice noodles. You see where I’m going. It’s a formula, but it doesn’t have to get repetitive.
This is what I had on hand, or cooked specifically, for my first week’s rice bowls (appropriately seasoned with salt & pepper).
The proteins: black beans marinated in white wine vinegar, olive oil, shallots; hard boiled eggs; dry roasted peanuts
The fresh: arugula; lettuce; cabbage; roasted orange slices; white onion
Dressing 1: rice vinegar, tamari, sesame oil, olive oil, shallot & orange juice
Dressing 2: olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallots, whole grain mustard
Sauce 1: salsa verde – a grinding and a chopping of shallots, arugula, parsley, toasted almonds, Castelvetrano olives, olive oil, white wine vinegar & lemon juice (found on DesignSponge)
Sauce 2: ginger scallion relish made with ginger, garlic, scallions, oil (a recipe by Bar Chuko in the forthcoming Brooklyn Bar Bites cookbook, which I photographed, and worked from my advance copy)
Sauce 3: quick scallion kimchi made with scallions, salt, garlic, brown sugar, grated ginger, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, sesame seeds, tamari, rice vinegar (a staple in our fridge, adapted from a recipe by David Tanis)
The rice: a wild rice blend, cooked for one hour in a rice cooker
And below are two distinctly different salad rice bowls – one with Asian flavors, and one with Mediterranean flavors. I’m just getting started.
Chop, chop, chop, stir, stir, stir… a stop motion video showing how to make a raw kale salad. For this recipe, I used two bunches of lanceolate kale (but any kale works), olive oil, fresh lemon juice, white wine vinegar, grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and toasted pine nuts. It is the perfect antidote to whatever ails you.
With the end of the holidays, winter salads are on my mind. The more vegetables I eat, the better I feel. I miss the salad bowls of summer, but it doesn’t feel quite right to eat mesclun greens and lettuce in the depth of winter. Here are three of my favorite winter salads, using winter vegetables. I have been chopping and serving these all week.
Raw kale salad – so easy, except for the chopping. You really have to chop, and it has to be done by hand. After that, mix in a dressing of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic if you like, shaved parmesan and toasted pine nuts. As a side, my daughter and I made Indian puffy bread – Poori – which was entertaining to watch puff up in hot oil.
Raw shaved Brussels sprouts salad – this is a variation of a recipe I found on Food52. Thinly slice some purple onion and soak in a bowl of water to mellow the sharp onion flavor (drain after about 30 minutes). Peel away the outer layers of a couple of large handful of Brussels sprouts. Slice the cleaned sprouts thin on a mandoline. Make a dressing with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, honey, whole grain mustard, salt & pepper. Toss together along with some grated Pecorino Romano. Eat straight away.
Shaved raw carrot salad – I found this one in Nigel Slater‘s Tender. Thinly slice raw carrots, mix in fresh grapefruit & lime juice, olive oil, shaved hot peppers, salt, pepper, and toss in some torn leaves of cilantro.
I feel like I’ve only just begun.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2016. It’s been a whirlwind of cooking and entertaining, with just a little bit of traveling to and from the mountains of Quebec. There have been bonfires, and food cooked over bonfires – in Hungarian stew pots and cast iron cauldrons. And now, back to work. Somewhat refreshed, full of new ideas.
The Blue Mountain Cookbook Club met again, and this time featured The Cocktail Party: Eat, Drink, Play, Recover. We met at Paul & Anthony’s house, and between us I think we cooked just about every recipe in the book. Our hosts made infused vodkas (cucumber, apple, dill, raspberry) and a make-your-own taco bar. The rest of us brought eggnog, black bean cakes, arancini, mac-n-cheese cupcakes, pastrami sandwich muffins, mini meatballs, spicy pigs-in-blankets, and champagne Jell-o shots. And then we had a secret Santa cookbook gift exchange. I scored a vintage 1982 copy of Martha Stewart‘s Entertaining, and an autographed copy of Simply Nigela from Woodstock’s Golden Notebook. Another prize was a 1997 issue of Cooking with the Young and the Restless. I would say cookbooks have really changed over the years, but another contemporary book was the as-seen-on-tv Dump Cakes cookbook. (“Stop mixing & measuring…Just Dump. Now you can make homemade cake for your family in minutes!”) Nice.
The holiday spirit took over this November. We invited 14 people for a 3-course dinner at our cottage in the Catskills, and it was the most successful party we have ever hosted. I have so many memories of Thanksgiving pasts where frenzied hosts burn themselves on steam and pot-handles, curse over last-minute gravy and cold vegetables, and knock over piles of pans in the sink. This time, we accepted the offers of everyone who wanted to contribute. And, we cooked almost everything in advance. I am a list-maker, and I set to it.
A week before the day, we built our menu around what we knew people would be bringing. One brought pumpkin pies & green beans, one brought a box of wine and a strawberry cheesecake from Junior’s, one brought home-made cranberry sauce and a tray of roasted vegetables, one brought 120 oysters & two sauces, one brought bite-sized smoked salmon & creme fresh blinis and a salad, and to round out the house-cocktail we had planned, another surprised us by showing up with his entire bar and bar-tending tools.
In the days leading up to the feast, Chris dry-brined two 12-pound turkeys in salt, rosemary and lemon, according to a recipe by Melissa Clark. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe for make-ahead gravy (make a killer turkey stock, make gravy, store in fridge, reheat before serving and whisk in the turkey drippings = no stress and delicious). We had a vegetarian coming, and I made a vegetarian mushroom-thyme gravy from Food52. We made two vegetarian dips from Martha Stewart’s Appetizer‘s book. We made Alton Brown’s pickled beets. I stored it all in glass mason jars in the fridge. The morning of, Chris made a vegetarian stuffing (with all the bread, butter, mushrooms, apple cider, apples, and celery & sage, no one missed stock or sausage).
The day before, we rented bar tables, chairs & table cloths. The living room became the dining room, and the dining room became the bar. The bonfire in the forest became the oyster station. I picked a bouquet of dried flowers and berries from the yard, counted cutlery, chose serving dishes and stuck post-it notes all over them. I raided my boxes of pretty glassware, silver, and platters that I use on photo shoots. I boiled the napkins and ironed them, and at that point I knew I was about to go too far.
The day of, guests arrived at 2pm, we started with oysters & cocktails. Dinner unfolded seamlessly. As hosts, we were able to enjoy the party with a minimum of last-minute details. Chris and I agreed on a bar-limit to adhere to before the turkey was carved.
At the end of dinner, guests helped load the dishwasher and rinse for the next load. We had coffee and sweets, and went back out to the bonfire beneath the moon. The party was over by about 10 p.m., which served us well, because we did it all again the next day, and the next…. Oysters, and turkey sandwiches at Jon & Juliet’s house the next day, and on day three back to our house for turkey soup and bruschetta.
I snapped photos here and there. Mostly I seem to have taken photos of drinks. I was probably a little bit busier than I remember. But it’s a rare feeling after three days of hosting to feel more refreshed than tired, and I want to remember the keys, and repeat.