Monday, November 28, 2011

Ambrosia, a Quintessential Southern Dessert

As a child of the Deep South, ambrosia was always among the desserts my grandmother served at her holiday table. According to Greek and Roman mythology, ambrosia is food of the Gods.

An internet search revealed there are a lot of different ambrosia recipes, some containing apples, pineapple, sour cream, Cool Whip, marshmallows, or pudding. The Deep South Southern ambrosia I recall from my youth was a simple dessert consisting of seasonal winter citrus, such as oranges and grapefruit, garnished with flaked coconut. This is my best recollection of my Nanny’s ambrosia. The addition of the dried cranberries and a splash of Grand Marnier are my own. It's best served during the winter months when citrus fruits are at their peak. Even after all these years, my grandmother's recipe is timeless and contemporary.

Serve in your finest crystal bowl, or as I did in this case, a bowl from Meakin’s mom’s Early American Feather Glass collection. Food of the Gods deserves the best.

Southern Ambrosia 
Serves 6 to 8

3 ruby red grapefruit
6 – 7 Navel oranges
A small handful of dried craisins (dried cranberries), optional
½ cup flaked sweetened coconut or more to taste
Splash of Grand Marier, optional
Fresh mint for garnish

With a sharp knife, remove the peel of the grapefruit and oranges and discard. Over a large bowl, remove the individual sections (called supremes) of the citrus with a knife, letting the juices and the sections fall into the bowl. Drain the juices and save for breakfast or cook’s treat.

Soak the dried craisins if using in a bit of hot water to plump, then drain well. Add the craisins to the citrus supremes, along with about a half cup of flaked, sweetened coconut or to taste. I added a splash of Grand Marnier for extra flavor, but it’s neither traditional nor necessary.  Add a sprig of fresh mint for garnish, or julienne the mint at the last minute and add just before serving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes

French Cranberry Sauce 

It’s been a wild and crazy week. Between dashing to appointments with a very talented decorator at Pottery Barn (a fabulous experience by the way) and pulling the condo together for the season, I don’t feel like we’ve even stopped to catch our breath. What a shame too because the weather in south Florida in November is absolutely delightful. Not too cold, not too hot, and the traffic isn’t enough to make you want to pull your hair out just yet.

Last night I had a little panic attack when I realized next Thursday is Thanksgiving. As usual Meakin’s advice is right on. “Don’t worry,” he said, “just rely on our old standards, which is what most people prefer for Thanksgiving anyway.”

And so it is. We’ll have a traditional oven roasted turkey, a French cranberry sauce simmered in red wine that I’ve made for thirty years, a version of my mother’s Southern cornbread dressing, and baby English peas with butter and rosemary. Dessert will be Bahamian sweet potato pie spiked with a healthy dash of dark rum for an island twist. Simple enough and easy to pull off. Besides, our favorite Thanksgiving food is really a turkey sandwich shared between the two of us before we turn off the lights in the kitchen and go to bed Thursday evening.

On Friday I’ll make one of our favorite fall soups – pumpkin squash, which is what I did last year. It can be made ahead and slowly reheated after a Friday morning shopping spree if you’re so inclined to visit the malls. You most definitely won’t find us there. My first career was in retail management and just thinking about shopping on the day after Thanksgiving gives me a major headache. But for others, it’s exciting to snap up bargains and get your Christmas shopping out of the way early, so I say more power to you. The economy will definitely thank you.

Pumpkin Squash Soup

The details and the recipes can be found by clicking the various links. I’ll be sharing our Thanksgiving favorites with Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Are you, like us, serving old favorites or are you spreading your wings and trying some new recipes?  Will you be staying home and doing the cooking or are you going to visit family or friends? Whatever you do and wherever you go,  we wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Elegant French Green Bean Salad from the Périgueux Region

November has always been my favorite month in the fall. In the mountains, the leaves have changed, there’s a nip in the air, and it’s cool enough to build a fire in the fireplace. When we lived in the islands, in November the humid days seemed to all of a sudden disappeared and the heat of summer was magically gone and replaced with gentle cooling breezes. The same is true on the Gulf coast of south Florida. November also happens to be the month we were married and that alone is reason enough to love November don’t you think?

I find in the fall I crave what I call “transitional” foods, the kind of foods that bridge the gap between hardy cold weather foods such as braises and stews and light summer entrees. This elegant little French green bean salad is an excellent example of a perfect starter for an autumn dinner.

In southwestern France in autumn the walnuts of Périgord grow in the Dordogne and the Lot regions and during September their markets are full of fresh walnuts. In early October the bulk of the crop is gathered when they fall to the ground and are dried and made into walnut oil, one of the most distinctive flavors of the region.  This green bean salad is especially delicious paired with another local specialty of the region, foie gras.

If you can’t find French haricot vert as shown above, slender green beans will work. However, I don’t recommend pole beans. This is a French salad with foie gras, so we want it to look elegant, n’est-ce pas? Walnut oil is available in most supermarkets and specialty stores or substitute a good extra-virgin olive oil. Make sure to store any nut oils in the refrigerator after you open them because they turn rancid if left on a shelf in a warm cabinet just as any fresh nuts will do.

Salade de Périgueux or salade d’haricot vert
Adapted from “The Food of France” by Sarah Woodward

1 pound of French green beans (haricot vert), or any slender green beans, topped & tailed
Sea salt
2 tablespoons walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
A small handful of freshly shelled walnuts, broken in half or crumbled in large pieces
2 ounces foie gras

Bring a saucepan of water to boil with plenty of salt and very gently boil the beans for about 6 minutes. They still should be green and fairly crisp. The exact time will depend on the size and freshness of the beans, so taste regularly.*

As soon as the beans are cooked to your satisfaction, drain them and dress immediately with the walnut oil, lemon juice, and freshly ground black pepper even if you are serving them later. When it’s time to assemble the salad, season with a tiny bit more sea salt, scatter the walnuts over the salad, and top with thin slivers of the foie gras.

*Cooks notes: Take care not to overcook the green beans. They should have a good bite with no discernible crunch and taste “cooked” but definitely not mushy. They can go from cooked to over-cooked very quickly, so it's important to stay close and taste, taste, taste as you go during the final few minutes.

I will be sharing this recipe with Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.

What I'm reading.

“Touching, thoughtful, hilarious, and exquisite in its observations, French Lessons—Ellen Sussman’s day in Paris with a wonderful collection of characters—is a treat. . . . Très charmant!”
—Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Four Ms. Bradwells