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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A HANDS-ON CHERRY SEASON

A quick glance at a woman's hands will tell whether she gathers or she shops for summer produce.  Hint: harvesting fruits and vegetables will wreck long, impeccably polished nails in the time it takes apply insect repellant. My own nails were a  manicurist's worst nightmare last week.  The dark, goulish stains around and under my  fingernails were the price I readily paid for the pleasure of picking cherries from the tree in my front yard.

When cherries are ripe there is no time to lose.  The window of opportunity lasts less than a week.  The process of picking two to three pounds, culling, rinsing off debris  and relieving them of their pits takes the better part of a morning.  Every year I test several cherry pitters hoping one will magically prove to do the job quickly and cleanly.  Yet again, this year I found impaling each cherry with a plastic straw was the most efficient but messy solution.  Note: Eat as you work; there are fewer to pit.

  

If all this sounds slow and low tech, it is.  Working with one's hands is also a hugely satisfying way to tune out the world.  And when you are finished there are enough cherries to prepare a refreshing Cold Cherry Soup for dinner and preserve a pound or more for the future.   This soup takes minutes to cook is also a beautiful ruby color.  A last minute garnish of red wine vinegar leaves a moire pattern on the surface.  It’s a picture suitable for framing.

It so happens that I have the perfect bowl and plate for serving it.   Some years ago I bought a set of blue dishes covered with a cherry blossom pattern in a seconds shop in Limoges.  Claude Monet himself had designed this tableware for his home outside Paris in Giverny.  He was inspired by the numerous Japanese prints that lined the walls of the dining room.  His careful curation of every element in that room has the stunning  effect of unifying life at the table with art.

 

How, I wondered, would Claude Monet's cook have preserved cherries in the kitchen at Giverny a century ago?  I checked for recipes in a wonderful memoir and cookbook, Monet's Table  written by Claire Joyes, the wife of Monet's great-grandson.  What she gathered from Monet's handwritten cooking journals and her personal contact with Marguerite, the cook, are rudimentary recipes by today's standards. Cherries were preserved by sealing them in jars with their juices, submerging them in a water bath and boiling the jars for twenty minutes. Brandies cherries were  macerated in a strong eau de vie (double distilled from raisin skins and seeds).

I chose to use recipes from contemporary sources for preparations of Pickled Cherries* and Spicy Cherries in Wine**.  Both the pickle brine and sugar syrup for the sweet preserve are easy to assemble.  The cherries will age in these solutions over a period of months in the refrigerator, although the cherry pickles are disappearing quickly.  They make a great garnish with cheese and a piquant addition to summer salads.   I will be guarding the spiced cherries for winter desserts.

* Six Seasons, by Joshua McFadden, pages 57-58.

** Jacques Pepin Celebrates, by Jacques Pepin, page 401.

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

WHAT'S NEW ABOUT OVERNIGHT OATS?

 I caught up with Millennials’ dining habits quite by accident in a recent phone conversation with my daughter Celia.  We often talk about what we’ve been cooking, and she mentioned she had prepared overnight oats for supper. What?  Had she forgotten to eat breakfast that morning?  She heard the disbelief in my voice and described what amounts to an instant meal in a Mason jar. 

 I was amazed to learn that oatmeal had escaped its morning niche to become a popular homemade carryout meal.  It consists of rolled oats mixed with a few chia seeds, layered in a Mason jar with fruit at the bottom and on top.  Milk of any variety is added to moisten the oats.  Yogurt and honey are recommended add-ins.  

 Although there’s no cooking involved, overnight oats is not a  source of immediate gratification.  The oats take at least four hours to absorb the milk in the refrigerator, so it ends up being an overnight process.  A video link Celia sent me showed how to plan a week's worth of meals choosing a different fruit combination for each day of the week.  Open the refrigerator on Wednesday and look for the jar with strawberries and bananas.  That’s the instant part.

 

As hard as I tried to imagine the pleasures of eating of cold, uncooked rolled oats, my mind kept defaulting to soggy cardboard.  When I shared my reaction with Celia, she assured me the consistency of overnight oats is closer to that of rice pudding.  There was only one way to find out.  I had to give it a try

Measuring and pouring ingredients into a Mason jar felt like lab work rather than cooking.  In this scientific mood, I recalled all the outrageously healthful properties of oats.  It has more soluble fiber than any other plus beta-glucan that makes it so effective in lowering blood cloresterol, regulating blood sugar and boosting the immune system.  What’s not to like? 

The next day I chose to sit on a shaded bench in the park to enjoy my chilled jar of overnight oats for lunch.  All the ingredients tasted as I predicted they would.  The oats were disappointingly thick, sticky and flavorless.  I wished I had added more honey and was grateful for the texture from the fruit. 

That evening I prepared a pot of old-fashioned oatmeal with steel cut oats.  I simmered them for four minutes in boiling water, took the pot off the heat, covered and left it at room temperature overnight.  The grains were plump, tender with a slight al dente finish by morning.  A quick reheating in the microwave renewed their comforting scent of toasted grain that invited a sprinkling of brown sugar, sliced banana and cold milk. 

Overnight oats may not be the first riff on a humble grain that’s been the staple start to the day since antiquity.  It’s best known previous reincarnation was Bircher Muesli, a health cereal created around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Brenner.  At every meal he treated recovering tuberculosis patients to a buffet of raw grated apples, rolled oats, dried fruit and nuts with a side of yogurt.   

So, would you like your oatmeal soaked overnight in milk, cooked in water or dry with yogurt?  

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

BITTERSWEET FRUIT DESSERTS

I am always hungry to taste a fresh take on a classic recipe.  Too often we associate innovative cooking withchefs whose success depends on their preparation of the next awesome dish. But a new idea need not be time consuming work for a kitchen of  prep cooks.  I’ve made it a priority over the years to show home cooks how to get out of a recipe rut and have fun experimenting.   

An adventurous group of students gathered in the Chicago's Alliance Française kitchen on a recent Saturday with just this objective in mind.  Our goal was a makeover of three classic fruit desserts with the addition of a single bitter ingredient.  Which  would we add?  How would we choose to pair and add them to the recipes?  And would they improve on the flavors we already knew and loved? This kind of risk-taking is fun!

 

                                                

                                                                                                

In our first experiment, we inserted a layer of burnt caramel between a pre-baked sweet pastry crust and a decorative layer of fresh strawberries and raspberries.   The caramel replaced a traditional vanilla custard filling.  Voila, we created an energized Berry Tart with Burnt Caramel.

 

 

To make comparisons easier, we used the same pastry shell recipe for a Lemon Tart.  The bitter element in this dessert was a thin layer of very dark chocolate smoothed between the pre-baked crust and curd.  Everything was going according to plan until the very last moment.  

As the lemon curd was spooned over the semi-set layer of chocolate, a thin swirl of dark liquid rose up to the surface.  On no! We'd created a spoiler alert.  The chocolate layer had been outed. Never mind.  The abstract pattern created by the drizzle became part of the experiment.  I rather liked it.

(How bitter was the chocolate?  The group tasted bars with 82% and 88% cocoa respectively and unanimously preferred the one with a higher level of cocoa solids. FYI: Most dark chocolate bars have 40-60% cocoa)

                             

 

In the third dessert we replaced the time-honored orange butter sauce that accompanies Crêpe Suzette with a tangy Orange Marmalade. We first cooked a small batch of marmalade from Artisanal Preserves that includes the bitter peel.  We poured off some not-quite-set marmalade to coat the crêpes and proceeded to gel and jar the remaining marmalade, another five minutes of work.

We completed our three bittersweet fruit desserts with ample time to sit down together and enjoy them.  That's one of the pleasures of working together as a class.  But, a lunch composed of three stand-alone desserts?  Now that was challenging!  We managed with the help of a flute of Cremant d’Alsace.  

Before they left, I asked everyone to vote for their favorite.  The winner was.....(drum roll).... the crêpes flamed with bitter Orange Marmalade!!  My mouth is still smiling.

 

 

Links to recipes:

Strawberry, Raspberry Tart with Burnt Caramel 

Lemon and Bittersweet Chocolate Tart 

Crepes Suzette with Bitter Orange Marmalade