Book: “The goodness of olive oil”

Whenever there is book fair, I irremediably go to the art, poetry and cooking sections. I like cooking books that are beautiful and simple, and where I may learn a thing or two. And if a book can bring together cooking, poetry and art, well all the better!

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Today, I found this little gem of a book at a secondhand bookstore. I am delighted. The text is an enchantment to read and the watercolour illustrations a delight. Some nice recipes are included as well.

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ref: “The Goodness of Olive Oil,” by John Midgley, illustrated by Ian Sidaway (Random House, 1992) [link to Amazon – here]

Sardines with peaches and a saffron, ginger and lime sauce

I eat Sardines regularly. They say it’s good for the brain… That is one reason, the other is its wonderful taste. Here is a lovely recipe with a delightful sauce.

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For one can of plain sardines
1- Open the can of sardines and let the oil out.
2- Place the sardines in a bowl and sprinkle with a generous amount of lime juice. Let them soak for about 20 minutes.
3- Take the sardines out of the bowl and in the remaining liquid add some fresh ginger root grated, freshly crushed pepper and a tablespoon of saffron liquid (recipe here).

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To serve, place some fresh baby arugula on a plate, top with the sardines and some fresh peaches cut in cubes. Pour the sauce on top of it all and sprinkle with fresh min leaves. I served it accompanied with a good “pain de campagne.”

Confiture d’abricot et verneine – Apricot and verbena jam

Verveine, known in English as Verbena or Verbena Citronella, is a delicate herb used mainly for tea and as a digestive all around the Mediterranean. It is not readily available in Mexico except if grown in a private garden. So the last time I was in Paris, I bought boxes and boxes of it. I grew up drinking it in the evening, and to this day, I do the same.

Verbena has a lovely minty fragrance and a slightly citrus like taste, making it a wonderful match with many jams such as apricot, peach or raspberries. To use it in jam, the best would be to use loose fresh leaves. But if you do not have any at hand, as in my case, simply prepare a infusion as indicated in this recipe.

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For one kilogram of fresh apricots
1- First, make the verbena infusion. It should be concentrated. Place one teabag in 100 ml of boiling water and let it sit until the water becomes dark gold.

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2- Wash the apricots, cut in half, take out the pits and cut again in quarters if the apricots are large.

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3- In a large cooking pan, place the apricots, the verbena infusion and a mix of 550 gr of white granulated sugar and 250 gr of brown sugar (sugar should total 800 gr).
4- Place on medium heat until it starts to boil. During that time, mix gently so that the sugar does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
5- Bring down the heat to low and let it simmer for about 25 minutes. Stir every five minutes or so during the process, do it gently so as not to break the fruits.
6- You know the jam is done once you place a drop of the liquid on a cold plate and it does not run when you tilt the plate. Once it is done, immediately place the jam in tightly closed glass containers previously sterilized with boiling water.
7- Let it cool down then place in the fridge. The jam is ready 24 hours later.

Enjoy as you would enjoy any jam!

Asperges au safran et au chutney de mangue – Saffron asparagus with mango chutney

A delicious side dish with asparagus cooked in saffron scented water topped with mango chutney. I served it with warm boiled eggs on a bed of baby arugula. Perfect for a warm summer’s lunch.

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1- Wash and cut the asparagus at about a third of its length.
2- Boil water and add a generous amount of saffron liquid (recipe here ). Place the asparagus gently and let it cook until it is al dente.

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3- Take the asparagus out of the boiling water and place them in a sieve to get rid of the excess water.

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To serve simply place it on a plate and top with mango chutney (recipe here). It can accompany any dish that does not have many spices since the chutney provides a lot of taste, such as eggs as here or broiled fish. Enjoy! 

Pain au raisin – raisin bread

I love making bread. This time it came out really nice and I am so glad.

I started making bread when I lived in India as it was hard to find bread aside from sliced toast, and of course, as every one, I made Naan and other Indian breads at home. But I wanted the feel of a baguette, still my favourite breakfast with salted butter and homemade jam. So I started making my own bread. It took some time and some calibrating depending on if it was monsoon season or not. Actually during the monsoon, the bread came out almost perfect since the humidity and the heat greatly helped make the dough rise and the bread always came out soft on the inside and with a deliciously crispy crust.

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Since I moved to Mexico I have had trouble making bread. It either came out too dry, or the dough did not rise, or something or the other went wrong. I thought it may be the yeast. So the last time I was in Paris I bought several boxes of baker’s yeast and… it seems  that this time it worked or maybe it was just that I did something right!

Here a nice and easy recipe that anyone can do. You do not need a kneading machine, or a bread machine, or any kind of machine. As with most everything I cook, I use my hands and kneading becomes a meditation experience.

I have included all the stages commonly associated with bread-making (le pétrissage, la levée, le façonnage et la cuisson) and a few tips. I hope it will convince you to try.

Stage zero: getting the ingredients ready
1- In a small bowl mix one cup of tepid water with one envelope of rising baker’s yeast. Mix with a spoon until the yeast is completely diluted. Set aside.
2- In a larger bowl place three cups of flour (white or whole or mixed – you can vary the kind of flour and adjust as you see fit) and one teaspoon of sea salt (gros sel). Mix well by hand letting the flour and the salt run through your fingers (the salt can have a contrary effect on the yeast so make sure the salt is mixed thoroughly with the flour). Add one tablespoon of olive oil and mix again by hand.

Stage one: Le pétrissage – kneading
1- In the larger bowl, slowly add the cup of tepid water and knead the dough as you go along. Bring the knead from the sides to the middle gently for at least 10 minutes.
2- Then start kneading inside the bowl. Make sure you insert pockets of air as you work the dough so that it may rise faster. Knead for at least 15 minutes. (If you feel it is too dry, add a little bit of water. If you feel it is too wet, just add a bit of flour.)

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Stage two: La levée – raising
1- Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl covered with a cotton clothe made humid with warm water. Place it in a warm place in the kitchen, the higher the temperature the better. (I generally place it under a lamp, it works.)
2- Leave the dough to rise for at least an hour. It should double in volume.

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Stage three: Le façonnage – shaping
1- After one hour, knead the dough on a floured surface making sure you create air pockets as you knead. The best way is simply to fold the dough.
2- At this point start adding the raisins (or other dry ingredients) a little at the time and keep folding the dough.
3- Arrange the dough in the shape you desire: baguette, little baguettes, round shaped, etc.
4- With a sharp knife, make some indentations on the top of the dough.
5- Let it rest for another 30 minutes to an hour.

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Stage four: La cuisson – baking
1- At least 15 minutes before you start baking the bread, heat up the oven to 250º C. Place a deep baking dish filled with water at the bottom of the oven . This will insure that the air in the oven is not too dry.
2- Place the dough in the oven and bake for 10 minutes at 250º c. (You may want to splash a little bit of water at the bottom of the oven to create some steam just before you insert the dough for baking.)
3- Then lower the temperature to 210º c. and continue baking the bread for 15 minutes.
4- Finally, lower the temperature to 190º c. and let it bake for 5 to 10 minutes. This last stage is important as it will enable the bread to remain soft on the inside with a nice and crispy crust.
5- Once out of the oven, let it cool on a rack. It is important so that the bread does not “sweat.”

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Enjoy immediately with salty butter or any way you want.