Fruit Caponata

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A while back I wrote a post on a young man who is a spice expert. His name is Lior Lev Sercarz, and he opened a spice store called La Boîte in New York City in 2007. I titled the blog post The Spice Companion, because that is the name of his first book, published in 2016. It’s a fascinating and hefty encyclopedia of spices.

La Boîte, the store, sells spices, but also has classes, dinners, and wonderful gift offerings.

If you can’t get to New York City, La Boîte has a beautiful website where one can purchase unique spices and spice blends. It’s like Penzey’s on crack.

Read my blog post if you want to be impressed by a young man on a world-wide mission to study spices. His journey from a kibbutz in Israel to New York City via France, working with notable chefs, is a great read.

I receive the monthly La Boîte newsletter, and it was in a recent issue where I discovered this fruit caponata recipe, created by Christian Leue.

In the newsletter, Mr. Leue describes his fondness of Sicily, and how in the town of Rosolini he was once served a caponata made of fruit, alongside a grilled veal ribeye. Traditional caponata is not made with fruit, but is instead a savory Sicilian eggplant dish.

Based on his dining experience, he created his own version of fruit caponata. From the newsletter: “It’s a supremely versatile condiment, bright and freshly acidic, with a deep but forgiving sweetness.”

He served his caponata with “a simply seared salmon and fluffy basmati rice topped with toasted almonds.” A sprinkle of Izak N37, a La Boîte spice blend, ties all the flavors together.” This is a photo of that meal from the newsletter.

Here is the spice blend Izak N37. It contains sweet chilies, garlic, cumin, salt, and spices.

Previously on the blog I’ve made a fruit compote As well as roasted fruit in parchment, and chutney, but this recipe is like none of those. See what you think.

Fruit Caponata
printable recipe below

1 cup whole red cherries, stems removed if you like (you can also leave them on as a reminder not to eat the pits)
2 firm nectarines, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, 1-inch dice
2 cups mixed whole grapes
2-3 Tbsp wine vinegar (either white or red is fine, amount will depend on acidity, some wine vinegars are above the standard 5%)
1 Tbsp olive oil
sweetener, to taste (I prefer chestnut honey)
salt, to taste

For the caponata, combine all ingredients except salt and sweetener in a sauce pot with a lid and cook, covered, over medium heat until everything has softened, about 25 minutes.

Adjust to taste with salt and sweetener of your choice, and additional vinegar, if desired. Instead of honey, I used maple syrup.

Leaving the fruit whole or in large chunks keeps it from getting mushy, and you’ll get a lovely red color from the cherry skins.

Depending on the season you can also try adding/substituting: strawberries, small plums, quince, figs, apple, or pear.

The only way I veered from the original recipe was to somewhat reduce the liquid remaining in the pot after cooking the caponata.

According to Mr. Leue, “The caponata goes really well with most anything you want to throw at it. Try it with brined pork chops, pan fried and served with spätzle. Or alongside farro pilaf and braised chicken thighs. I followed his suggestion and gently seared a salmon filet, but didn’t make rice.

And I used Izak N37 on the salmon.

This fruit caponata is definitely unique. If I have to compare it to a condiment, I guess it would mostly closely mimic a chutney, because of the sweet and savory components.


The caponata is pretty because the fruit isn’t chopped, but I found it more challenging to eat. But all in all it was an interesting and delicious condiment to prepare, and so many different fruit options are possible, much like a chutney.

And the Izak N37? Fabulous!

The 2nd book already published by Serarz is The Art of Blending: Stories and Recipes from La Boîte’s Spice Journey. His third book is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

 

 

 

 

Crêpes

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I’ve had a love affair with crêpes since I was a little girl, which is when I learned how to make them. I would make a “stack,” sprinkle a little white sugar on them, and eat them just like that for breakfast.

My first introduction to crêpes was when my mother made Crêpes Suzette. My French friend Stéphane from My French Heaven gave me some interesting factoids about this fabulous, flaming dessert and crêpes in general!

♥ Crèpes Suzette is a recent thing: In the early 1900’s, Edward VI was having crêpes in a restaurant on the riviera. The chef had flambéed Grand Marnier with them. Edward asked the waitress what it was but she didn’t have a name for the dish. So the king asked what her name was, which was Suzette. They have been called crêpes Suzette ever since.

♥ As for savory crêpes, they are an ancient specialty from Bretagne. They are made with black wheat and are called galettes. Only the sweet ones can be called crêpes.

A galette with ham and egg

A galette with ham and egg

♥ You eat crêpes with apple cider always as they produce a lot of apples there (Bretagne is close to Normandy).

♥ The restaurants where they serve crêpes only are called crêperies. The best ones have a chef who is a Maître Crêpier.

Photo from retagne by Stephane Gabart

Photo from Bretagne by Stephane Gabart

After seeing the above photo, I put Bretagne on my travel bucket list. Besides, I want to one day try the real deal in a crêperie.

There are many different recipes for crêpe batter, and I’m sure they’re all good. The only rule in making the batter for crêpes, to me, is the consistency. Once you have that, you get proper crêpes. If the batter is too thick, you get pancakes, if it’s too thin, you get mush.

Here is a basic recipe for crêpes, whether you’re going to use them in a sweet or savory manner:

Crêpes
makes about 20

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons oil*
Couple pinches of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

Whisk together the egg, milk, and salt together well in a medium bowl. Gradually add the flour, whisking gently but not over-whisking, until it is all incorporated and there are no flour lumps.


Set the bowl aside for at least 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t thicken. If it does, add a tiny bit of milk or even water to get the consistency back to where it should be.

To prepare to make the crêpes, have a well-seasoned crêpe pan on hand. Mine has angled sides and an 8″ flat bottom, made from steel. I’ve had it for 42 years. I know this, because my mother sent me off to college with the same pan!

Also have on hand some butter, the batter and large spoon (about 1/4 cup capacity is perfect), a spatula, and a plate on which to place the cooked crêpes. I always use a very sturdy but thin, flat spatula to help lift the thin pancakes.

Heat a little dab of butter over medium-high heat in the crêpe pan. I personally prefer butter because of the flavor. You might have to start with about a teaspoon of butter, and subsequently use about 1/2 teaspoon per crêpe.

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Before starting, give the crêpe batter a whisk. Now is the time to test its thickness. Add a little liquid if necessary.

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When the butter is hot, add a full spoonful, or approximately 1/4 cup of batter, to the pan. With the other hand, turn and tilt the pan until the crêpe batter has covered the whole bottom of the pan. Cook for no more than 30 seconds, then turn over gently with the spatula and cook for no more than 10 seconds. Place immediately on the plate by sliding or flipping over.


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The cooked crêpe should be lightly golden, especially on the first side, but not browned. Adjust your burner setting accordingly, keeping in mind that if the heat is too low, the batter will just sit there and nothing will happen.

The pan has to be hot enough to “grab” the batter. If the pan is too hot, it will cause the batter to become bubbly and you probably won’t be able to spread it around. Sometimes the first crêpe is a dud because you must test the heat of the pan, and the batter.

Continue with the remaining batter.
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These crêpes will hold well for a day or two, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Then you can use them as you want. They must be brought to room temperature first, or they will not roll or fold without breaking. Even a little heating in the microwave will help make them more malleable.
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Besides some sugar, crêpes are also good with a little jam and some berries!

* When I make savory or sweet crêpes I use olive oil, but if you prefer, you can use a flavorless oil. Also, if you want a sweeter dessert crêpe, you can add a little sugar to the batter.

Strawberry Vanilla Neufchâtel

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A while back I posted on making your own Chocolate Neufchâtel – a chocolate cream cheese spread. My initial reason for making the chocolate version from scratch many years ago was because the chocolate neufchatel I purchased once was terribly expensive.
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I haven’t seen it around anymore, although I spotted a variety on IGourmet.com this morning. It’s made by Westfield Farm, and it’s purely a chocolate-flavored goat cheese. Pure bliss!
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In any case, chocolate neufchâtel is wonderful to serve for something slightly sweet on a table of hors d’oeuvres, as is this strawberry version. I use the name neufchâtel only because it sounds nicer than cream cheese. They’re both firm and creamy, although American cream cheese also contains cream; the taste difference is negligible.


I had a little leftover jam from when I used my new jam and jelly maker last week, and decided to use it to make the strawberry cream cheese. I could have also added some goat cheese for a little zing, like I did with my chocolate version, but today’s will be only cream cheese.
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Besides being delicious, strawberry cream cheese/neufchâtel is very pretty, especially in the spring and summer for parties and showers. You can make a very similar strawberry cream cheese with sweetened fresh strawberries, but today I’m simply using the jam I made, a strawberry vanilla jam. It’s so simple.
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Strawberry Vanilla Neufchâtel

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup strawberry jam

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl and add the jam.

Blend the ingredients together until they’re smooth.

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Today I’m going to make the cream cheese into a log form, so I let the mixture chill for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Place a piece of plastic wrap on a counter, and plop the strawberry cream cheese onto the plastic. Working carefully, with your fingers underneath the plastic wrap, carefully form the cream cheese into a log shape, wrapping it in the plastic at the same time. If it’s not working properly, you probably need to chill the cheese more.


When ready to serve, unwrap the cheese and place on a serving platter. The plastic should come off easily; the butter helps with that step.

Let the log warm to room temperature before actually serving. Serve with water crackers or crisps or bread.
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As you can see, it’s very spreadable.


You could sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top, toasted walnuts, candied pecans, or pearl sugar. Or, if you wish, you could also add a little more of the jam on top.

But I really like it as is, with just the slight sweetness of the strawberries!

note: Taste the cream cheese when you’re making it, because the flavor of the resulting spread, no matter what shape you form it in, will taste the same. If you want more sweetness, add some sieved powdered sugar. Don’t go crazy with adding the jam; in fact, I wouldn’t use any more of the jam to cream cheese and butter ratio than I did. Otherwise you run the risk of the cream cheese not firming up. Jam doesn’t firm up – cream cheese and butter do!

Sautéed Apple Slices

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These apple slices were sautéed to top a savory dish, namely the chicken breasts served with a bacon cream sauce I made yesterday, shown in the photo above.

Sautéed apples aren’t something you have to have in your repertoire, but once you learn this simple technique, you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll be tempted to do this! Think pork, duck, turkey, foie gras and pheasant.

There are two approaches to sautéed apples. One is savory, which I’m doing today, and the other is sweet, such as for a topping for ice cream.

Any apples will work for this recipe; I used a Rome apple because that’s what I had on hand.

Have everything ready to go at the point you peel and slice the apple. You don’t want the apple to brown before the sautéing step.

Here’s what you need for slices of 1/2 medium apple:

Butter, about 2 tablespoons
Calvados*

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Add the butter to a skillet that is large enough to hold the slices in one layer. Let the butter brown slightly for extra flavor.

Add the apple slices. Salt and pepper is optional.
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Turn over the apple slices carefully and let them brown on the other side.

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Add a generous splash of Calvados to the hot skillet. If the Calvados doesn’t light on fire immediately, shake the skillet a little, and it will.
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Let the Calvados burn down, and cook until the apple slices soften. Then they’re ready to serve.

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* You don’t have to use Calvados to flambé apple slices, but it is a wonderful booze to have on hand. It’s an apple brandy, very potent, and has a lovely apple flavor. It’s from the Normandie region of France.
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If you don’t have it on hand, use a brandy, cognac, Armagnac, or even a dry vermouth.

note: If you want sautéed apples for dessert purposes, simply add some brown sugar to the butter in the first step. Let the sugar dissolve, then sauté the fruit. This will work really well with apples and pears, as well as with bananas, such as in bananas foster. For the flambé step, use a liqueur instead that will compliment your recipe. You can also add cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, if that works with the recipe you’re using.