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Mini Candy Apples

22 Dec

I think I might have candy on my mind! Actually, I kind of do … I am devising a Yee Sang Cake for O’Gourmet Food Hall, and I have been looking at innocuous and innocent fruits with an evil candy-ing glint in my eye. Heheh. I love the candied caramelised oranges I made yesterday, and today, I decided to try another route – candied apples. But not just any apples, mind you, sweet, succulent, fragile miniature apples from Japan. These little babies are just so beautiful – perfect in miniature – that I could not bear to cut them up and cook them.

I remembered growing up in the US, one of the greatest fall and winter pleasures were  candied apples we would get from farm stalls. These candies are the stuff of memory – and the taste of them conjures up cold, crisp weather, puffs of breath, that clean smoky scent in the air, sky blue (or white with coming snow) and immeasurably beautiful. I adore candy apples – for the memory and the joy they represent.

These candy apples – large or small – would make lovely home-made Christmas presents. They are quick and relatively easy, they transport grownups back to the innocent pleasures of childhood, and they can be decorated in all sorts of ways – double dip these candy apples in ground nuts, bits of chocolate, crushed candy cane … let your imagination go wild! Or, serve them as part of a Christmas buffet or dinner. Such pretty pleasures.

Candy apples are not that difficult to make, but you really need a sugar thermometer to evaluate exactly where your candy is going. And you need to be brave (hot sugar is very dangerous), and have a sure hand. Work quickly, surely and have everything at the ready. I love how the hot candy clings to the apple skin – and lightly softens the apple flesh. When you bite into one of these gorgeous beauties, you get crackling shards of cinnamon candy, and then soft yielding apple. Lovely!

Makes 8 – 10 large or 12 – 16 small candy apples

  • 12 – 16 small apples (or 8 – 10 large) – try and get the small ones if you can, but if not, a strong red skinned apple is fine
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • A few drops red food colouring (optional – I used India Tree natural food colour)

Line a baking pan or jelly roll tin with parchment or wax paper.

Wash the apples extremely well. I placed all the apples in a large bowl, squirted in some fruit and vegetable cleaner, and covered with water. I let the apples sit for about five minutes before draining and drying the apples very well.

Place the completely dried apples onto the prepared tin, and piece each apple with a skewer. For the tiny apples, I used double toothpicks.

Set the apples aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water. Stir well to ensure that everything is combined.

Place the saucepan over medium high heat, and bring the sugar/water mixture to a boil, swirling the pan a few times to make sure everything is mixed well. Dont stir – sugar crystals will form, and this is not a great final candy look. Use your candy thermometer, and allow the sugar syrup to come to 149C (300F).

Take off the heat, and have everything at the ready. Sprinkle on the cinnamon, and mix well (a silicone spatula is fine). Add the vanilla and red food colouring (stand back as it will bubble up), and stir well again.

Using an oven mit, pick up the saucepan, and tilt it so that the candy forms a deep well in one side. Pick up an apple by the toothpick, or skewer, and submerge the apple as completely as possible in the candy. As you remove the apple from the candy, twirl it, and place it back onto the parchment paper.

If you are adding another topping, dip immediately before placing back on the parchment paper.

Repeat with the rest of the apples, and allow to air dry for at least a few hours.

Remove the skewers or toothpicks, and serve as is or wrap in parchment paper to give as lovely gifts.

Plum Crisp + Frittata

13 Oct

CrispOn Sunday, BSA invited some lovely friends of his over for lunch. M and I chatted about what we should serve, and decided on a typical brunch-y meal that our family loves. Lots of bits and bites to eat (toasted breads, croissants, smoked white fish, james, cheeses, bagels, cream cheese) and two main dishes: frittata and plum crisp.

The frittata was a variant of the frittatas I have made earlier, but with added inspiration from my friend Karo’s post. I sauteed rounds of leek in butter until they were soft, and then I grated a couple of zucchini (courgettes), squeezed the liquid out of them, and added them to the leeks with a little more butter. Sauteed them until they were soft, and then made the frittata with some beautiful goat’s milk cheese for added flavour. This was a delicate and beautiful frittata, finished in the oven to make it puffy and brown!

For the plum crisp, I decided to be a little brave. I sliced the plums into quarters, and then chopped them up. I added cinnamon, vanilla, grated nutmeg, and a little basil – it gave the fruit a slightly savoury deep hit of flavour that was totally gorgeous. The crisp was embellished with oats and almonds. Beautiful, served with yogurt mixed with brown sugar and vanilla.

Serves 6 – 8 people

  • 12 ripe dark purple plums, quartered and chopped, skin still on
  • 1 tbsp + 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 + 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 + 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 4 tbsp butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400C (200F).

In chosen baking dish (I used a rectangular Pyrex dish), tumble in the chopped plums. I kept the skins on – but obviously took the pits out!

Sprinkle 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, basil and 1 tbsp vanilla over the plums and using hands (or a spoon if you want to be neat!), mix thoroughly.

Crush the sliced almonds – I put them in a little zip log bag and bashed them with the bottom of a wine bottle! A rolling pin works just as well 😉

In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup flour, 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla, oats, butter, crushed almonds, and salt. Use your fingers to really work the butter into the rest of the ingredients, and taste. Adjust spices if need be.

Sprinkle the crisp over the plums, and bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the plums are soft and bubbling. The plums will have let go of deep dark purple juices and the whole thing will be gorgeously lush. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or plain yogurt, scented with a bit of brown sugar and vanilla.

Per Se – Part III

10 Oct

Just a few more thoughts on Per Se. It was such a special experience, I have really needed some time to consolidate my response – to let the emotional reaction to that experience ripen and settle.

I dont think I will ever be able to cook like that – and I am not sure I want to.

I am so glad and happy to have had the Per Se experience, and I look forward to other times in my life when I will be able to eat at a restaurant where there is such pure, extreme artistry. I consider myself a cook, and I loved the intellectual engagement I experienced at Per Se. But I think I was a bit nervous that going through that experience would make me feel bad about myself and my cooking style. I dont think I will ever be able to cook in such an exacting way – in such a complex and intricate manner. Its not in my nature.

As I have grown old(er) I have recognised that there are different kinds of artistry. There is the perfectionist … and I am not that. My cakes list to the side. My soups are rough and ready. I get chocolate everywhere (joyfully). I am a sensualist cook, and I cook best for those I know and love – or at least with ingredients I adore. I am comfortable with this, and proud of the fact that some of the food I make, people remember … the emotional impact of that mouthful, the love, the passion, the caring – still resonates years later.

The meal I had at Per Se was like that – but for much more technical reasons. I will be forever grateful that I had the resources, and the opportunity to dine there..and I was deeply moved by the kindness and care I felt in the food, and the service …. and of course I wouldnt say no to volunteering as a dishwasher in that kitchen! … but I am comfortable in my own skin as a cook. I look forward to my training next year to learn methodology, process, rhythm and focus. But I will always be a slightly messy, dusty, floury, chocolatey me 😉

… That can appreciate and revel in the Per Se experience!

Prepare for the experience

I was really happy that we prepared well for the experience of Per Se. This was twofold: physically and intellectually. Physically, we got plenty of rest the night before, washed and dressed beautifully, so we felt confident, and did not consume anything for breakfast, save some herbal tea. Our bodies were relaxed, eager and ready to receive the bounty that was Per Se. This experience demanded a certain “presence” on the part of the diner to truly reveal all its pleasures – ensuring we were physically grounded and ready was very important.

We also needed to prepare our minds for Per Se. I had read all of Keller’s books, so I had some idea of the processes he engaged in. Reading reviews was also very important, and we both did web searches and spoke to friends who had been. Sometimes, I like entering a new experience with relatively little expectation but this was one case where I felt it was important to know what was to come. For a few days before we went, I read the menus online (Per Se posts the menus for the day before on their website).

If you take a moment to really study the menu – look at the methods they use, the references they make – you will understand the techniques and applications when you are presented with a course – and it makes the meal much richer, deeper and enjoyable.

Know what you want, but let them lead the way

“Red” (I referred to her in Part I) really upset me because she was so disrespectful of the process of cooking, and of the style of eating at Per Se. I understand if people have food issues, and Per Se seems to have staff that are very accommodating. But I dont like it when someone feels as if they are important enough to explain their adherence to a low fat diet (in the Temple of Butter and Cream!) to the entire room! When you call to confirm your reservation – that might be a good time to have a discussion on what you can and cannot eat.

Respect the Chef and his vision. When we went on our kitchen tour, our lovely guide told us that the Chef and his assistants get together at about 1am every morning (after what is obviously an exhausting and exacting day) to plan the next day’s menu. They think carefully about the journey each set of tastings will take the guest on … and they care very deeply about it. I would not go to a play and ask the director to move the scenes around… Allow the artist to guide you through his vision – it will be all the more resonant and amazing for it. I could not believe we were creating memories and resonances within a single meal! How fantastical that was and yet how apt.

Close your eyes, and dont regret

Per Se is expensive. Breathtakingly so. I think the whole point I tried to make right at the beginning of writing about this experience was that for me, a foodie who has finally embraced her true self… the cost was an investment I made in myself. I dont want a new dress, perfume, painting or piece of jewelry. I want an experience that will inspire me, and that I will never ever forget. . As someone who is now conscious and happy in her definition as a cook, Per Se was on my list of places to go and feel. It was money truly well spent, but I have to admit, I had to close my eyes and not think about it during the experience — otherwise it would take the joy out of it all.

I do think there was one thing I regretted at Per Se. That was that I did not ask them to match drinks for me (the non-alchol drinker) as well as for my wine drinking companion. I drank water throughout the meal, and it served me well. It provided refreshment and a clean palate, but I would have been intrigued at what they would have brought me if I had asked them to do so. Ah well, next time!

Bring a friend, and immerse yourself completely!

I was so glad to have a companion with me. The whole experience was magnified by having shared it. We spoke about it for days afterwards, we compared notes on what we were eating, we reflected the experience back to each other. I was glad to have someone there who was enjoying themselves as much as I was, and who truly loved food the way I did. It solidified everything… and late into the night, we were still chatting about which courses we liked best, what we would have changed, and how much fun we had.

Part of the great pleasure of this experience was that it was so fleeting – 3 1/2 – 4 hours. You have to really stop. Be present. Take a breath, and stretch. Pause. Taste. Think. Laugh. Taste again. Total immersion was the only way to go. Each plate. The sight of it, the design, the presentation. The wafting scents. The feel of the designed cutlery and plates. The first taste. The second. The flavours coating your tongue, and the haunting whispers of memory coaxed from those tastes. The last taste of that course. The anticipation of the next.

Enjoy the spoiling and the luxury

As someone who loves to cook for others, who sees the act of cooking as a form of service and love, what surprised me most about the experience was how much it forced me to just sit back and be spoiled — and enjoy it! Because I wanted to truly enjoy it, I had to let go of my thoughts about how much wastage was going on in the kitchen, how much food we were eating when others have so little… I had to accept this luxury I was granting myself, and I had to enjoy allowing others to create a meal that would give me joy.

I loved it all!

And finally… be inspired!

Since my time at Per Se, the one lasting gift has been the inspiration I have received from experiencing such complete command over taste, texture, combinations, contrast, colour, and artistry. I have thought of food in a different way. I have considered combinations and dishes that I have never thought of before. I have read recipes, and re-read several of Kellers.

Inspiration comes in all sorts of forms. Love inspires, as does experience. People, places, laughter. This meal had a magical quality to it and I walked away deeply grateful, incredibly satisfied, and totally inspired!


A Food Revolution in the Bronx!

23 Jun

My sister sent this article to me – please read it! An amazing, wonderful, brilliant man – the dad of our friends from schooldays – is revolutionising the concept of local food in the Bronx. He is a man on a mission with an extraordinary heart, and a belief that things can be done – and the ability to implement one step at a time.

From the New York Times

For a Healthier Bronx, a Farm of Their Own

Stewart Cairns for The New York Times

Chris Riger, left, and Rebecca Radliff mulching at the farm.


IT’S hard to imagine two places in New York State more different than the South Bronx and Schoharie County.

The South Bronx has 31,582 people per square mile. The county has 51.

Less than 2 percent of the people who live in the South Bronx are white. Schoharie County, about three hours straight north by car, is 95 percent white.

The South Bronx is home to four jails, two sewage plants and an untold number of subway rats. Schoharie County has 13,600 cows, 1,305 sheep, 291 hogs and several hundred farmers to tend those animals and grow vegetables and fruit.

Dennis Derryck, a 70-year-old mathematician and professor at the New School for Management and Urban Policy, has become the unlikely matchmaker between the two worlds.

Mr. Derryck, who lives in Harlem, is Schoharie County’s newest farmer. His spread is Corbin Hills Road Farm, 92 acres with a pretty farmhouse and a silo that needs a roof. It’s the cornerstone of a project linking the upstate rural and downstate urban through beets and berries, an effort to get healthy food into what is the poorest Congressional district east of the Mississippi.

Unlike others who have come to the South Bronx to solve social problems through vegetables, he is offering neither charity nor an outsider’s idea of what the neighborhood might want to cook. He’s developed a commercial community-supported agriculture plan (C.S.A.) that lets residents determine what they’ll get, with an enticing prize at the end for people who stick with it: a chance to own shares in the farm.

He started the project because, like others who have spent time looking at what people eat in the South Bronx, he became frustrated.

“If there is a food revolution, it’s not yet including the low income,” Mr. Derryck said. Every day, hundreds of thousands of pounds of produce travel through the South Bronx to the Hunts Point market, one of the world’s largest food distribution centers. Little of it is actually sold in the surrounding neighborhood.

The South Bronx has more health problems than any other part of New York, according to studies by the city health department. Many, like diabetes and obesity, are connected to diet. Mr. Derryck thought a community supported agriculture program rooted in the actual community could help.

In a traditional C.S.A. plan, people pay farmers at the beginning of a season for weekly deliveries of whatever grows on the farm. Last year, 18,000 New Yorkers participated in 80 such plans, according to the advocacy group Just Food. It’s a model that doesn’t translate well to poor neighborhoods, where handing over, say, $500 at one time with the promise that someone will send you a box of flowers, herbs and vegetables you probably don’t want isn’t a popular notion.

So he decided to turn the model on its head, giving plan members a say in what is grown, and, with the help of nonprofit groups, making it less expensive as well.

“Most people I talked with say, ‘Can I get enough food to feed my family,’ ” Mr. Derryck said. “They don’t want parsnips and thyme. They want 10 pounds of potatoes.”

He cajoled almost every person he has ever served with on a nonprofit board, raising $562,000. He also got a $300,000 bank loan. He bought the farm in February 2009, then went shopping for a farm manager, a tractor and a refrigerated truck for delivery in the Bronx. Once he pays off investors and the loan, which might take five years or more, he intends to pass shares in the farm to the members of the plan.

Mr. Derryck’s farm won’t be producing until August. And even then, it can’t grow enough to fill the boxes. So a small group of Schoharie County farmers have signed on, agreeing to offer vegetables and fruit at a discount to help Mr. Derryck make budget. Mr. Derryck thinks the plan can eventually generate $1.2 million a year for Schoharie County farmers, and expand its roster of supporters to include foster-care families and day care centers.

Richard Ball, who grows some of the finest carrots in the state as well as cardoons and haricots verts for restaurants like Daniel and Per Se, met with Mr. Derryck and decided the crazy professor from Harlem had a cause worth supporting. He also figured it could build business and upstate-downstate good will.

“If we simply got New York to be New York’s customer, we’d be in great shape,” he said.

Seven nonprofit groups in the South Bronx have signed on as sponsors, passing on shares to employees and clients, others offering some financial help and still others serving as the collection and distribution points. The first week, Mr. Derryck sold 171 shares. This week, it reached 228.

“Clearly, we have struck a nerve,” Mr. Derryck said.

People can pay $3.75 to $20 a week, depending on income, subsidies and share size. Members only have to pay for two weeks’ supply of food at a time, and they can use food stamps.

Judith Raphael signed up right away. She has spent the last seven years raising two children in the neighborhood and each summer hosts the Taking Back the Bad Rap of Hunts Point celebration.

Despite what critics who have never lived in the South Bronx might think, people really do want to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, she said. But the options are slim. At the bodega, you might find spotty bananas and potatoes. At the only grocery store within walking distance, the broccoli is usually yellowing, the apples soft and the lettuce packaged.

And it’s not cheap.

“By the time you bought everything you need for the household, you get to the vegetables and you just say forget it, you can’t afford it,” she said. “People might not buy a bag of oranges because it’s too expensive, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to cook a good dinner.”

The boxes that showed up Thursday held such beautiful food that people couldn’t stop smiling.

There were pantry fillers like red potatoes, turnips and beets. But there was also plenty of pristine chard, crisp sugar snap peas and fresh oregano. And even though strawberries were too expensive for Mr. Derryck’s initial budget, each family got a box — the farmers’ gift to their new urban partners. “Right off the bat you want them to think they are making a right decision,” Mr. Ball said.

But all that glowing good will doesn’t mean the project is going to work. Life in the South Bronx just isn’t that easy, and people are skeptical. Many groups have parachuted in trying to fix things, using fashionable terms like food deserts and food justice.

The city-run Green Carts program, which has issued permits for 113 produce carts in the Bronx, rarely shows up in Hunts Point, residents say. And City Harvest comes by every few weeks to hand out about 20,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables, bringing along chefs like Eric Ripert to demonstrate how to cook vegetable fried rice.

Even Heather Mills, the former wife of Paul McCartney, sends her brand of nutrition into Hunts Point. In 2008, she donated $1 million to the Hunts Point Alliance for Children for fresh produce, and provides frozen vegan imitation chicken, fish and hamburgers from her food company, Meatless Meats. She is also donating money to the Corbin Hills Road Farm project.

But not everyone in the South Bronx is enamored with programs that aren’t home grown.

“It’s been like this hippie approach to food justice that starts to have this hand-out mentality,” said Zena Nelson, who started the South Bronx Food Co-op in 2007. The co-op, which Ms. Nelson recently left, has agreed to buy 25 shares of the Schoharie C.S.A. plan to provide food for its members.

She empathizes with Mr. Derryck, who has to juggle the demands of his agricultural enterprise as well as the competing dietary interests of a community with roots in West Africa, the Caribbean, the American South and Latin America.

“This community is going to be a tough one,” Mr. Derryck said. “If I blow it, I’m not getting a second chance.”

That’s why he thinks the project will sustain itself only if residents have an ownership stake. Once plan members take control of the farm, they can collectively decide to use their shares to reduce the price of their weekly take, and make other decisions about how the farm is run and what’s grown. He envisions farm camps and weekend visits.

But it’s a concept that can confuse supporters and plan members alike.

“I don’t even know what they are talking about,” said Juan Duncan, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who has been unemployed since March. Still, when he saw a flier outlining the concept, he enrolled. He’s sick and tired of grocery store prices. “Five or six dollars for a little bunch of asparagus with a rubber band around it?” he asked incredulously.

That the plan did not offer plantains was his only regret. “But I understand why,” he said.

Nancy Biberman has been working with people in the South Bronx for nearly three decades. She is the founder and president of the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Project, one of the biggest partners in Mr. Derryck’s project.

“If you don’t understand what ownership of anything other than a television or a cellphone is, the notion of being a shareholder in a cooperative farm is a hard concept to understand,” she said. But at this point, anything that gets good food into the South Bronx is worth a try.

“You know how you throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks?” she said. “We’ll throw all the vegetables against the wall and see what happens. The problems are so serious, it’s kind of unconscionable to not try everything.”