Colette’s Summer Cocktail

I don’t know if Colette is still widely read in French schools or if the recent movies renewed interest in her novels in the English speaking world. She is one of those writers that people have heard about and think they should have read but when asked which books are never quite sure. Chances are that more Anglophones have seen Gigi the movie based on one of her books than actually cracked open the book itself. I say that not as a criticism as I have never turned a page of any of her 30-odd novels. I knew of her only from other books I had read about Paris during the first half of the 20th century. I’ve read pocket biographies that hailed her as a great writer and critiques that branded her immoral and degenerate. Those contrasting epithets have been voiced about her as a writer and a person since she first appeared on the literary scene in 1900.

Her first four novels were published under her husband’s nom-de-plume, Willy,and when they divorced she discovered that he held the sole rights to the considerable royalties. It was the last time she was to give any man that sort of control over her or her work. She was to marry two more times, have numerous affairs, one with her step-son, several women and a transgender artist. She was to appear on the stage, write novels, memories, newspaper articles, and essays. It was said that she only wrote about what she knew and many of her works are autobiographical and with a bold feminism that grew out of her own experiences. When she died in 1954 Colette was the first Frenchwoman ever given a State funeral. She had been refused burial by the Catholic church so the ceremonies were held in the Court of Honour of the Palais-Royal (just beneath the window of the apartment she had lived in for years).

A left click will take you to Yannis’s recipe for Colette’s Vin d’orange.

So why this sudden interest in a dead French author and what does it have to do with a summer cocktail? Well according to my dear friend and master chef Yannis she had a favourite summer drink that he featured on his website Bearfoot in the Park.

I tried it when he first published the recipe for Colette’s Vin d’orange in April and served it as an aperitif last Sunday at our iftar dinner* – it takes four weeks but as Yannis says other than patience requires little effort. It was a success – we served it with Prosseco though sparkling water would be a good mix also. A left click on the picture of the doubled batch jars (above) that I put in the pantry today will take you to the recipe.

A few things to note:
Yes the measure amount for the brandy is correct – many chefs are now given things by weight as there is difference between cup sizes and other types of cooking measurements depending on the country you live in.

We found the amount of sugar a bit too sweet for our tastes and are cutting back on this next batch to see. It may well depend on the sweetness of the oranges.

And yes that second jar in the picture contains lemons. My friend Jim has a batch in the works and wondered how it would work with lemon and brewed lavender or lime and Thai basil. I didn’t have any brewed lavender but thought I’d give the lemon a try. I reduced the number of lemons. I’ll let you know how it turned out.

*The more observant – in more ways than one – may question alcohol at an Iftar but we remember Ramadan from our days in Egypt of the late 1980s.

The word for May 7th is:
Sole /sōl/: [1. noun 2. verb 3. noun 4. adjective]
1.1 The undersurface of a person’s foot.
1.2 The section forming the underside of a piece of footwear (typically excluding the heel.
1.3 The undersurface of a tool or implement such as a plane or the head of a golf club.
2. Put a new undersurface on to a shoe.
Middle English: from Old French, from Latin solea ‘sandal, sill’, from solum ‘bottom, pavement, sole’.
3. A marine flatfish of almost worldwide distribution, important as a food fish.
Middle English: from Old French, from Provençal sola, from Latin solea, named from its shape.
4. Belonging or restricted to one person or group of people.
Late Middle English (also in the senses ‘secluded’ and ‘unrivaled’): from Old French soule, from Latin sola, feminine of solus ‘alone’.
Ain’t English a wonder?

Not Fried Green Tomatoes

According to my cousin Betty my father use to make the most wonderful fried green tomatoes for Sunday morning breakfast. We had a huge garden when I was growing up and this time of year there were an abundance of unrippened tomatoes. Sunday morning breakfast before church – we were Presbyterians and you need the sustenance to get through the sermons – was when daddy shone in the kitchen. They were a bang up affair. I remember the Canadian bacon and back in the recesses of memory slices of green tomato with a coating of corn meal.

As fond as that memory may be I have to admit fried green tomatoes were not something I ever developed a taste for! Perhaps based on one of my rambling recitations of days-gone-by – something I seem to doing frequently the last while – Laurent brought home a basket of green tomatoes from the farm market the other day. Hmmm what to do? What to do?

A left click on my attempt at Green Tomato Pie will take you to Glen’s video and the recipe. It’s worth it for the explanation of where the recipe came from and the Depression Era history behind it.

Well wouldn’t you know it: Glen over at Glen and Friends just happen to do a green tomato recipe on his Sunday Morning Old Cookbook show: Green Tomato Pie! It was unusual enough and Julie’s reaction to it was intriguing enough to make me decide to give it a try. And even stranger it’s a dessert pie! Well after all tomatoes are a fruit.

“Ah how does it taste?” my faithful readers ask. Intriguing. Yes that’s the word I would use: Intriguing. If I didn’t know otherwise I would have said some sort of plum with an odd mixture of tart and sweet. Laurent says it does taste of tomato but with a subtle sweetness. Would I make it again? Probably but as green tomatoes are a seasonal thing not until next autumn – god willing and the Hillsborough don’t rise.

The word for October 15th is:
Tomato /təˈmādō/: [noun]
1.1 A glossy skinned, pulpy edible fruit that is eaten cooked or raw as vegetable or in salad.
1.2 The South American plant of the nightshade family that produces the tomato. It is widely grown as a cash crop and many varieties have been developed.
Early 17th century: from French, Spanish, or Portuguese tomate, from Nahuatl tomatl.
I say /təˈmādō/ you say /təˈmätō/ let’s go make a pie!

British Umami

Quite often our friends at YouTube throw things at ye will-ye-nil-ye; well okay it’s based on some sort of algorithm that cunningly tries to pretend its random. Today a video of a gentlemen trying Patum Peperium appeared in their suggestions of what I might find intriguing – dear god those bastards know me better than my own mother did.

And what in the name of all that is culinary is Patum Peperium, asked my faithful reader? Well as the label on the ceramic pot – now sadly replaced by plastic – that once encased this savoury concoction indicates it is “The Gentleman’s Relish for toast, biscuits, savouries, canapes etc.” Created in 1828 by John Osborn it is a paste of anchovies, butter, herbs, and spices in a secret combination known only to one employee of the Elsenham Quality Foods* in deepest, darkest Essex. Let us hope that one person does not go to that great Gentleman’s Club in the sky before passing it on to another employee. By the way Mr Osborn was residing in Paris when he created the spread and went on to win a citation at a Paris Food Show! Quite an honour for an Englishman one would think. It was labelled as a “Gentleman’s Relish” as it was felt it was too strong for the tender palettes of ladies and too refined for the common man. And as for the Latin appellation, it is almost as nonsensical as Häagen-Dazs but a great marketing tool particularly to undergraduates at prestigious colleges. Over at Google Translate it came back as “usurpation of birth” – an interesting concept that I will not even try to get my head around.

Patum Peperium is meant to be spread sparingly on toast (white bread preferred) at breakfast, mixed in the mince for Shepherd’s Pie, melted in with soft scrambled eggs to give them an added punch or as an ingredient should you be serving Scotch Woodcock as an after-dinner savoury course. It is also suggested that its salty, mildly fishy taste will give added umami to baked potatoes, potato cakes or croquettes.

Now lest I sound like a Patum Peperium aficionado I have only tasted it once in my life almost 40 years ago. Our friend Ruth Monty brought us a ceramic pot back from one of her trips to see family in England. As I recall it was opened, spread on biscuits (possibly too thickly), eaten, faces were made, the lid was put back on and a year later (well passed its “best before” date) it was disposed off.

However the little video that I was presented with this morning piqued my interest. My tastes have changed, I happen to like anchovies, and I would like to give it another try. Sadly it is not readily available here in Canada but I’m tempted to order it from a British site which assures that it delivers to Canada. However when the shipping rates are triple the item cost and the company in question has an added “courier surcharge (Corona Virus Related)”?????? So I’m afraid my curiosity will go unsatisfied until I get to England. Though in these days of kitchen adventure – like that surcharge “Corona Virus Related”) there seem to be a fair number of recipes out there for Mr Osborn’s original.

*And I was surprised to discover that production was moved from England to Poland in 2017 – Brexit indeed.

The word for October 3rd is:
Umami /o͞oˈmämē/: [noun]
One of the five categories of taste in foods (besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter), corresponding to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate.
Directly from the Japanese umami meaning “deliciousness”. It’s defined as being a savoury pleasant taste – brothy or meaty.
It seems to have become a culinary buzz word that is over and often wrongly used.

A Taste of Andalusia

Last evening we carried on the Andalusian theme I posted yesterday with a feast in the Iberian vein. Our friend Pico made one of his signature paellas chocked with Island seafood; as well as hosting Cathleen created a boozy-fruit packed sangria; Lori treated us to chocolate covered strawberries and her famous shortbread; and I whipped – well more like blitzed – up several batches of Gazpacho Andaluz. It was a great opportunity to see a few friends, enjoy Cathleen’s secluded garden in the middle of town on a cool summer evening, and watch Pico work his magic with the paella pan (as well as wonderful food it’s great performance art).

A festival of lobster, crab, mussels, clams, shrimp, chicken and chorizo with a rice tinged with a rich chicken broth and spices. All courtesy of Pico and his magic paella pan!

As the fresh ingredients – particularly tomatoes – are appearing on the market stands several people asked for the recipe for the gazpacho. The recipe was created and tested for the July/August edition of Cook’s Illustrated back in 2010 and is one we’ve enjoyed for the past decade.

The makings waiting to be blitzed into a double batch of Gazpacho Andaluz.
Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz

Serves 4 to 6

3 pounds (about 6 medium) ripe tomatoes, cored.
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded.
1 medium green pepper, halved, cored and seeded
1 small red onion, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1 small Serrano chili, stemmed, and halved
Kosher salt
1 slice quality white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1″ pieces
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
2 tablespoons sherry (or red wine) vinegar, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley, chives, or basil leaves
Ground pepper

Roughly chop 2 lbs of the tomatoes, half the cucumber, half the bell pepper, and half the onion. Place in a large bowl. Add garlic, chili, and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss well to combine and set aside.

Cut remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper in to 1/4 inch dice. Place in a bowl. Mince the remaining onion and add to the diced vegetables. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and transfer to a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. Set aside for one hour.

Transfer drained diced vegetables to a bowl and set aside. Add bread to the extruded liquid and soak for 1 minutes. Add bread and any remaining liquid to the chopped vegetables and toss to combine well.

Transfer half of the vegetable-bread mixture to a blender or food processor and process for 30 seconds. With blender/processor running slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of the olive oil and blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Use the back of the ladle to press soup through the strainer. Repeat with the remaining vegetable-bread mixture and olive oil.

Stir in vinegar, minced herb, and half the diced vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.

Serve, passing the remaining diced vegetables, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and black pepper.
Recipe courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated – 2010

As I finished writing this our neighbour came by and asked if we could use some tomatoes as she has a bit of an overflow from her garden! What to do? What to do?

The word for August 29th is:
Gazpacho /ɡəˈspäCHō/: [noun]
A Spanish-style soup made from tomatoes and other vegetables and spices, served cold.
From Spanish gazpacho, perhaps via Mozarabic gazpelağo from Latin gazophylacium (“treasure-chest in a church”), alluding to the diversity of its contents. Alternatively, related to Spanish caspicias (“remnants”).

Mac and Cheese

How I envied some of the kids in my neighbourhood as I was growing up! Their mothers prepared Macaroni and Cheese for dinner while mine turned her nose up at even the mention of it. “It’s what poor people eat” she would huff with that well known purse of the lips; though exactly what socio-economic group she thought we shoe-horned into I’m not really sure. So an invitation to join the Arsenaults across the road for mac and cheese was a special treat. And yes it was probably Kraft but to my mind it was exotic, I knew I wouldn’t get it at home, and it was a chance to enjoy what “poor people” ate.

Fast forward to our first house – a townhouse in darkest recesses of suburban Hunt Club. I had a Simac electric pasta maker — you put the flour, water and sometimes eggs into the bowl, it mixed and kneaded it, you opened the trap door to extrude the pasta through brass dies in the shape chosen and you cut it off at the length preferred. It was easy and quick, if a bit noisy. One of the more nosy kids in the neighbourhood, probably spurred on by an equally nosy mother, asked me what that noise was coming through our kitchen window. I said I was making my own macaroni – the eyes went wide. Wow that was pretty cool. So to ingratiate myself with the community I offered all the kids and non-working mothers in our walkway the chance to make their own.

One August lunch time mothers and kids gathered on our deck and we made macaroni. The kids had fun taking turns cutting the lengths and waited patiently as I turned their work into mac and cheese. When it was served with homemade lemonade there was a silence. Bites were taken, tastes were tried but noses were turned up! Something wasn’t right. Most of it was left unfinished! What was wrong – I had used homemade pasta, cream, and good quality aged cheddar. Then I realized it wasn’t Kraft dinner! First, it was the wrong colour – mac and cheese should be sort of a day-glo orangey-yellow. Second, it didn’t taste of whatever chemicals Mr Kraft puts into his processed cheese food powder. It just wasn’t Mac and Cheese the way mother made! I learned my lesson – no more pearls before swine! Little did those ungrateful piglets know that they were turning down a dish that later in life that trendy restaurants would be billing them $18-30 dollars for. Mac and Cheese is no longer for the “poor”.

I’m not sure when it all began but there are few places now that don’t offer Mac and Cheese as the ultimate comfort food. And often at an uncomfortable price. Of course it is no longer just pasta, milk and cheese – it’s now “gourmet” mac and cheese with all manner of fancy additions. I hear that there is now a “Hawaiian” mac and cheese with ham and pineapple. To that I say “NO! Just NO!” – pineapple does not belong on pizza or in mac and cheese. No discussion! The favourite here is Lobster Mac and Cheese with Mixed Seafood a close second. However last night we only had a bag of precooked shrimp on hand so …. Shrimp Mac and Cheese it was.

Two of the small Shrimp Mac and Cheese casseroles set aside for another day. A left click on the photo will take you to Chef Michael Smith’s recipe – a real winner in my opinion.

My friend Nora, no not that Nora the other Nora, mentioned she had used Michael Smith’s recipe for Lobster Mac and Cheese last week and substituted shrimp with success. Now Michael Smith is a force to be reckoned with here on the Island and Nora knows her food so …… A left click on the photo above will take you to the recipe.

And we have a winner! I’ve found my go-to recipe for Mac and Cheese. Creamy and cheesy but with a nice bite to it and it perfectly complimented the shrimp without overpowering it. Smith says it serves 6 but as we were only two I halved the recipe. Those six servings must be very large as even making the adjustments I ended with enough, to my mind at least, to feed six.

I just remembered that we have some frozen cooked lobster in the freezer so next week I’ll try the original. I have a feeling it will be just as delicious.

The word for July 31st is:
Macaroni /ˌmakəˈrōnē/: [noun]
1.1 A variety of pasta formed in narrow tubes often bent into elbows in North America.
1.2 An 18th-century British dandy affecting Continental fashions.
Late 17th century: from Italian maccaroni (now usually spelled maccheroni ), plural of maccarone, from late Greek makaria ‘food made from barley’.
Because it was an exotic dish in England in the 1700s when certain young men who had travelled the continent were affecting French and Italian fashions and accents it became a mocking term for these young blades amongst the older generation – sort of like millennial today?