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September 2010

Food Alchemy: Alex's Concord Grape Sorbet

  Grapes

Is there anything more fragrant and lovely in the fall than an arbor full of Concord grapes? Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the picking of them first with my sister at a lovely farm in Hunting Valley and then in the old abandoned orchard in the back behind my store where the vines tangoed wildly with the overgrown honeysuckle and lilac bushes that had been allowed to flourish for years without interference. Some of the best memories that I share with my son are of the many NEOTA days that we spent together. There was never any question. As soon as that free friday in October rolled around we'd head off to one of the many "pick your own" orchards in the area and we'd go hunting for indian corn, pumpkins and grapes. We'd take along a picnic and stuff more grapes then we could possibly eat at once into our mouths. Goddess, there is nothing like the smell of them. They are sweet and fruity but manage to be musky and sensual, all at the same time.

Alex was home-schooled so the year he got his temporary license, we drove out to the farm to pick them together but then we went to Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland which is where I taught him to drive.  Lakeview is one of the oldest cemeteries in the midwest and is a vast swath of acreage filled with magnificent old gravestones, tombs and mausoleums. It is also home to an arboretum so the seasonal displays are gorgeous. It is also the best place in the city to teach a kid to drive; filled with hills and steep turns everywhere there's no better place.  Accompanied by our fresh grapes, cheese sandwiches, cameras and Anne Rices "The Vampire Lestat"  , we spent one whole season perfecting the art of of driving. By the time the leaves had all fallen and the first snow was dusting the headstones Alex had turned into a very dashing young motorist.  

Alex



I think that in the above pic he's about 15 ,but now Alex is grown and lives in Southern California. We still share the love of those grapes and that gorgeous cemetery. It may seem weird , but it's our place. If he's got something he's thinking about we'll meet up there on the hill that overlooks the entire city to talk.

He grabbed my heart when he texted me last week from San Diego..."Mom, I just bought some Concord grapes and they made me think of you and Anne Rice...I'm glad she's not crazy any more". Those of you who are diehard Anne Rice fans will know what he means.....

So when last week I came across a recipe for Concord Grape Sorbet I immediately thought of him. He'll be home in October for a few days so I'm planning on going grape picking and pumpkin hunting and I can't wait to serve him this sorbet. True to form because I can't leave anything alone I completely changed the recipe. It's absolutely luscious, full of grape-iness and my sister the Goddess of Chocolate who's making her own batch using the original recipe has suggested that we enhance it with crushed Reeses peanut butter cups. At first I thought she was nuts, but now I can't get the thought of that out of my mind.  She's such a bad influence! 

All that I did to make this sorbet was take two dry quarts of fresh Concord grapes off of their stems and put them into my vitamix with the juice of one lemon, about 1 cup of fresh anise hyssop (flowers and leaves) and 1/2 cup of honey ,a pinch of sea salt and 1/4 of a cup of agave nectar. Then I added 1 and a half cups of spring water and blended on high for about 1 minute until everything was completely pulverized and lusciously purple. At that point I put in the refrigerator and let it steep overnight! In the morning I strained the whole thing through a chinoise and put the remaining juice mixture (about 4 cups) into my ice cream maker. 25 minutes later I had the most incredibly fragrant and delicious grape sorbet. I wish that I could say that I slaved over the whole thing for hours but I didn't. The grapes are so perfect right now that it doesn't take much to bring out their flavor. If you don't have hyssop then try the toasted fennel seed and fennel pollen like my sister is using. I'm sure that it will be wonderful and whatever you do, don't forget the Reeses! 

 grape sorbet




 All pictures and writings are owned by Beth Schreibman Gehring and are protected under my copyright.    Please don't use them in any form without my permission.


Bewitching Words of Wisdom: Arundhati Roy

“We have to lose our terror of the mundane.  We have to use our skills and imagination and our art, to re-create the rhythms of the endless crisis of normality, and in doing so, expose the policies and processes that make ordinary things — food, water, shelter and dignity — such a distant dream for ordinary people.”

Arundhati_roy
 

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. 

On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Arundhati Roy


Perfume Illuminated: Absinthe

 

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 Those who know me are very aware of my penchant for the dramatic, the mysterious and the illicit.  If it's got a story and a bit of history chances are that I'll be intrigued!


I've been enjoying  the European absinthes illicitly for years and I simply adore their deeply satisfying herbaceous flavor that smells like a walk through a midwinter forest , piney , icy and filled with running sap and wintergreen that's been trampled under foot. 



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Fortunately for a bohemian sort of girl like me, the US ban on absinthe was lifted several years ago and there are several wonderful versions sold in the United States that I can legally enjoy, Lucid and Mata Hari being 2 of the brands that come first to my mind. I love the rituals surrounding the drinking of it,  the flourish of spectacular goblets and  the slotted silver absinthe spoons adorned with a lump of sugar.  An absinthe fountain is the final bit of theatre, a gorgeous creation of crystal and sterling that drips chilled spring water into the glass, melting the sugar cube and causing the absinthe to change from a simple clear liquid to a luminous pearlescent elixir. 

I cannot stress enough the importance of learning to serve absinthe properly because that's part of the  real enjoyment! Last weekend, I was at a very expensive restaurant that was serving Lucid absinthe at the bar and although they had a fountain, the bartender used it improperly, serving my absinthe warm and without apology. He then went on to incorrectly  answer the questions that his patrons were asking about it , leaving  them confused and unable to enjoy the simple luxury of a perfectly prepared glass of absinthe. I know that  perhaps it sounds silly,  but the theatre surrounding this particular spirit  is half of the fun of drinking it. I know that I sound terribly traditional  and  in this case I am. The correct accoutrements are very important and as a dear friend who knows me very well from the late seventies remarked "Would that be an opium pipe?".  I should be ashamed to say yes, although it's been decades since I've had the pleasure. But I'm not!


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The active ingredient in a proper absinthe is Artemisia Absinthium, more commonly known as Grande Wormwood. It lends an incredibly bright slightly bitter anise- like herbal flavor and is the supposedly psychoactive element that was the reason that absinthe gained such a notorious reputation in the first place seducing the hearts and minds of such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Toulouse- Lautrec, Van Gogh and  Aleister Crowley. Romantically referred to as  "la fee' verte" or The Green Fairy, absinthe will be forever linked with an era of decadence that was passionate , provocative and  slightly dangerous. 


It is said that the buzz from a glass of absinthe starts out slow and by the second glass your senses are heightened yet you are still very aware of your surroundings.  By the third glass supposedly you will meet your muse. I've never gotten as far as the third glass, but I definitely find the brightened awareness that a glass of absinthe brings to be very pleasurable. These days absinthe is mixed into many different cocktails, most notably the Sazerac, a fabulous blend of rye, absinthe, bitters, sugar and a caramelized lemon peel that originated in New Orleans. 

I love it best taken by itself with that simple blend of sugar and water or stirred into a glass of champagne where it takes on a completely different and indefinably  elegant twist. Before you experiment with any of these cocktails though ,you owe it to yourself to try a delicious absinthe just once prepared in the style of Van Gogh or Toulouse- Lautrec. Who knows what will happen when you get kissed by the La Fee' Verte , but you owe to yourself at least once to find out!


 Now just catch the wind on wings of La Fee' Verte and fly over to Roxana Villas Illuminated Journal to read how the Mistress of Natural Perfumes uses Absinthe in her craft!




 






 


Food Alchemy: Tarte Tatin Semifreddo

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I love apples and I adore ice cream so what better thing to do with the abundance of fresh apples to be had in the fall than combine the two! I made a Tarte Tatin yesterday, that delectable French upside down tart  and there was a bit left over. It was rich and simply loaded with butter, cinnamon and fresh apples on a flaky Pate' Brisee crust. Not wanting to waste it and simply dying to experiment with the new Cuisinart ice cream maker that I bought myself I decided to make it into something else altogether! 

The results were absolutely delicious! I simply broke up the remaining Tarte Tatin, crust and all (I am sure that this would work just as well with apple pie!) and put it into my vitamix with half and half, cinnamon, some maple syrup, fresh pecans and the left over whipped cream. I ran the Vitamix for a minute and then thought ..."hmmmm...white cheddar!" I had a brick of Dubliner so I tossed a bit of it in for good measure and the result was really incredible. There was more than enough brown sugar caramel left in the tart so I didn't need to sweeten it further and the cheddar provided a nutty saltiness that is really appealing. I chilled the mixture for a bit and poured it into the ice cream maker , following the simple instructions!

 icecream1

About half way through the freezing process I ran out to my yard and grabbed a handful of fresh sage that I minced and added to the mixture. 25 minutes later I was rewarded with the most wonderful ice cream. It was creamy, full of caramel apple flavor and the bits of pecan and white cheddar simply added to it's divinity. 

Simple Observations: Don't add the sage last and definitely use dried not fresh. Mine got hung up on the paddle. 

This is more of a Freddo then a ice cream due to the lack of egg and the abundance of heavy cream. Consequently, it's a bit icier...a consistency that I really like!

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                                             Tomorrow....Heirloom Tomato Sorbet:)
 


Perfume Illuminated: Apple

Alex up in the apple tree
 

Every year I look forward to the month of September for many reasons, but mostly because the harvest season with its totally unabashed abundance inspires me to begin really cooking again!  Summertime is wonderful with all of it’s light fresh meals, but it’s the long slow braises of autumn and the scents of apple butter, chili  and stews that feed my soul at this time of year.  If we’re lucky this year, the Indian summer will bring with it bonfires,  apples and clambakes and lots of fresh cider.  As soon as I feel the first chill in the air I’ll begin to think about making Cidre’, that thoroughly seductive French hard cider that my son and nephew love to drink all winter long as well as delicious slowly baked  Apple Tarte’ Tatins that emerge from the oven dripping with butter and  oozing with creamy salted caramel.  Mornings will start with fresh cinnamon toast from the  bakery around the corner spread with spicy homemade apple butter.

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I begin longing for these treats in the last weeks of August when plump red apples start falling from my trees and the smell of their ripeness begins to waft  through my windows with  the warm breeze.  Riding the trails this time of year is an incredibly delicious experience with the warm windfall apples crunching under Henry’s hooves ,  the last of the ripening berries that I can steal from the birds and the sticky sweetness of the molding fallen leaves.  When my son Alex was just a little boy,(he's the one in the picture above hanging a bird house in one of our apple trees!)  I used to take him apple picking at a farm that was right around the corner. We’d spend the day picking apples and the fragrant concord grapes so ripe that they were covered with wild yeasts.  We’d bring a lunch of fresh cheese and warm bread and we’d spend the day playing among the trees , choosing the best apples and coming home with huge bags of fruit.  Alex was homeschooled and one year my husband came home to find two huge jars on the sink filled with cider and bubbling very mysteriously.  “It’s an organic chemistry experiment dad….we’re making  Cidre’ “ my son proudly told his father! Jim looked at me in disbelief, but I was relentless and besides, I knew that he’d love the results!

I think that was the point that my husband officially began to question my sanity, but when the time came to fill the bottles with the sweetly alcoholic brew even he got in on the action. There’s something about the act of putting things by that brings out the provider in every man and I’ll never forget the sight of him helping Alex siphon the liquid from the carboys into the bottles that we’d labeled so proudly.  We let the Cidre’ settle for another month or two and then we opened the first bottle. It was perfectly delicious and amazingly fresh and tart!  

Apple cordial is easy to make as well. Just take many peeled and cored fresh apples, slice them and put into a bottle of spiced rum. Add more spice if you like, a whole vanilla bean, some whole cinnamon sticks , raisins and a bit of  brown sugar or molasses. Shake and then let the whole thing sit for month.  Pour it into several pretty bottles and give it as Christmas gifts. This is a wonderfully   satisfying treat served  in pretty glasses and drunk next to a  cozy fire. Add a happy feline and stir!

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 I have my own apple trees once again and this year I am going to rent a cider press so that I can use my own fresh apple cider to make the first batch of Cidre’ that I will have attempted in many years.  I’ll also make apple butter with bourbon and as much chutney as I can bottle.  Making apple butter is one of the easiest things that you can do with a surplus of fresh apples. The traditional way calls for a huge copper pot and a bonfire ,  the way that it’s made every year at the Apple Butter Festival in Burton, Ohio.  The Century Village in Burton has a wonderful festival  every year where you can see apple butter being made in this way. We used to get up at 5:00 am   and meet our friends Bethane and Doc to partake in this particular alchemy….that of turning apples, cider, cinnamon, butter ,sugar and smoke  into the rich and golden spread. True apple butter made in this way takes hours to melt it down. First you build the bonfire and then you bring out the cauldron which is literally bigger than a kitchen sink!  Add apples and cider and stir with a wooden paddle ,  every now and then adding more crates of peeled apples.  Eventually, the apple butter experts come round and deem the pot fit for canning   adding  vast amounts of cinnamon, sugar and butter to the already delightful mixture. Every now and then you’ll buy a jar that has a bee in it…. signs of  very good luck and a naturally made product!

Lacking a bonfire but owning a wonderful copper pot, I make apple butter every year at home. It’s very simple and makes your kitchen as well as the rest of your house smell incredible.  I embellish a little bit simply because I can, but in the end it’s apple butter plain and simple.  Try this because its one of the most satisfying  Autumn  conserves that you can make. 

You will need:

Tons of apples, sliced and cored!  It’s your call as to peel them or not, I keep the peels on because I like them, but the purists say remove them!

A large bottle of fresh apple cider

Cups of brown sugar

Huge amounts of cinnamon

At least one stick of very good butter

A slow cooker or a large copper pot (the slow cooker works very well  ,but it never gets quite as creamy as it will if you stand for hours cooking out the liquid and stirring   happy  good wishes into the pot!)

Here’s the simple recipe. Put the apples into the pot or cooker,   add enough cider to cover and cook for as many hours as it takes to really cook them down . When it’s almost done add the cinnamon to taste, brown sugar and enough butter to have it be silky and smooth.

When it’s done pour it into   sterilized glass jars and seal tightly. 

 

Now…. to gild the lily as they say! This simple recipe although wonderful doesn’t quite do it for me.  Real apple butter made over a bonfire has a bit of a smoky taste so at the very end I add a bit of organic liquid smoke.  Sometimes, I leave it at that, but more than often I’ll add some bourbon, something wonderful like a Woodford Reserve or a Bookers, because you will taste it! 

If I want it to be  apple chutney instead of  apple butter, I’ll  make it in the slow cooker and add raisins, lemons , walnuts and onions and a little bit of the liquid smoke. I play with the spices, sometimes adding fresh sage from my garden and sometimes add a bit of brandy or a touch of single malt.  To serve add a freshly roasted chicken or a loaf of fresh bread and a large wedge of  white cheddar.

Please promise me that you’ll have fun with the harvest this year and make a promise to yourself to put something by even if your stillroom is the teensy kitchen in your apartment.  .  In the end, that’s what food like this is about ,  because it’s slow, creative and fresh.  Let it become a real part of your seasonal experience and enjoy the journey  as well as the results!

Last but not least, I leave you with this little ditty...The Johnny Appleseed song. This lovely song is what my husbands family sings every time they get together. Because there are so many of them and they are some damn musical they  sing it acoustically and in 4 part harmony. It's a gorgeous family tradition that has been sung at blessings, funerals , deathbeds and Thanksgivings for many years.  


Now, run as quickly as you can over to Roxana Villa's Illuminated Journal ,where she will delight you with her thoughts about  the fragrant and lovely Apple and it's place in her wonderful perfumes!


All photographs and text (except for the video of course!) are protected by my copyright! Thanks for not using them without my permission!