Ah, the Forbidden Fruit

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Pomelos were prevalent in local markets during the winter. And so, after seeing them in Chinatown groceries over the years, and hearing that they were something like a less-acidic grapefruit, I finally got around to picking up a couple.

V0042686 Pummelo or Pamplemousse (Citrus maxima (Burm.) Merr.): floweLooking much like an overgrown grapefruit, the pomelo is indeed like a milder version of that citrus. A little research on the fruit and its uses turned up that it is native to South Asia (hence its regular appearance in Chinatown), is available in white- and pink-fleshed varieties, has a remarkably thick skin and layer of pith, is also known as the shaddock or pamplemousse – and, that it was the base of Forbidden Fruit, a mysterious, long-vanished liqueur, and a key ingredient of the Dorchester Cocktail.

OK, that part got our attention. Delicious as the pomelo fruit is all on its own, dripping with the taste of honeyed grapefruit, its connection to the Golden Age of cocktails made it even more alluring. The whims of the 20th-century pomelo market probably brought about the demise of Forbidden Fruit liqueur, which was made by the same producer as Chambord, and was even sold in the same globe-shaped, gold-capped bottle. Even London’s Dorchester Hotel is left to wonder what might have been for its signature drink.

Pomelos are still a rarity in most markets, but apparently California growers have been experimenting with the crop. Its emergence in this country dovetails with the craft cocktail movement, and mixologists have set their sights on recreating Forbidden Fruit. Collectors have been seeking old bottle of the commercial product on eBay, hoping to coax out a few remaining drops or vapors to analyze. Cobbling together some of those efforts, we blended a batch by steeping the juice and peels of pink pomelos and blood oranges, plus cardamom, coriander and vanilla bean, in cognac, then straining off the solids and adding orange blossom honey.

The resulting liqueur has am amber color and nectar-like fragrance of early spring blossoms, touched with jasmine, vanilla and honey, tempered by a back note of spice. It’s beautiful to sip on its own, and the classic Dorchester Cocktail, which employs gin, rum and Forbidden Fruit, is a lovely martini variant. Cocktail lovers, take note. Everyone else, just cut into a pomelo to understand this enchanting forbidden fruit. 

Forbidden Fruit LiqueurTry the recipe: Forbidden Fruit Liqueur 

Then try the cocktail:

The Dorchester

2 ounces gin, preferably a London dry

1 ounce rum

1 ounce Forbidden Fruit liqueur

Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with a twist of lemon. 

Little Jewels

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We were dubbed The Macaroon Gang by one of the husbands of our little group, incredulous as he was that his wife and her food-obsessed buddies would devote an entire day to tracking down macaroons on the Lower East Side. But by then we had our route plotted out, starting at the little shop that stocked barrels of fresh, moist, densely sweet coconut macaroons for Passover —  in plain, chocolate-dipped, chocolate chip, and chocolate dipped in chocolate —  then heading down the street to the kosher pastry shop, the dried fruit and nut store, the matzoh factory, and the pickle man, for fresh horseradish (grated into a barrel by a guy on the sidewalk wearing a gas mask). It mattered little that only one of us was Jewish and actually needed some of the items for her Seder dinner. We’d fallen in love with those coconut macaroons from the LES and brought back bags full.

Alas, all of those iconic little LES shops have disappeared, their scuffed and worn storefronts turned into glass-box boutiques and coffee houses of a now thoroughly gentrified area. Coconut macaroons, on the other hand, remain a staple around Passover in New York. They’re likely produced by the same companies, although shed of the requisite trek to the old neighborhood, they’ve somehow lost their magic.

So this year, thoughts have turned to another macaroon variant for Passover, made with ground almonds and walnuts instead of coconut, and topped with bit of jam to make the cookies glisten like little jewels. This recipe, courtesy of cookbook author Joan Nathan in The New York Times, puts a Baghdad spin on things, with cardamom as the main spice, and a touch of rosewater in the finish. The only other ingredients are sugar and egg, just like basic coconut macaroons (not to be confused with the trendy French macarons), and they can be, in fact, should be, mixed in one bowl by hand. The process: incredibly simple. The results; hauntingly aromatic. 

Tip: Be careful on the baking time, as these cookies can quickly become too brown and dry. Remove from the oven when they still look slightly underdone, and they will stay tender and chewy. 

 Almond-Walnut Thumbprint Macaroons 

 

Spice Island

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Zanzibar spice nursery

Fresh from a rare side sojourn to Zanzibar—pinch me, Zanzibar!—after a work trip to Tanzania, I can still almost feel the hot East African sun on my face and taste the delectable Swahili delicacies that I could not try fast enough when I was there. Oh, but for more hours in the day—or for the wisdom to take vacation time when I travel.

Still, I did have the presence of mind to sign up for a tour of one of the spice plantations just outside of Stone Town. And I skedaddled home with a glorious trove of ingredients to recreate my Africa experience as well as energize some of the dishes on regular rotation here.

Over the coming weeks, I will be pulling out the stops with fresh nutmeg, cinnamon bark, lemon grass, curry blends, saffron and other lovely flavors as I channel inspiration from one of the world’s original fusion cuisines: Swahili. (First up: prawn curry.) But for now, here’s a little visual tour.

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Chocolate Kissed by a Rose

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Morning scents.8.7.14

The signboard outside a neighborhood sweets shop offered the enticing promise of rose-flavored hot chocolate. A promise that, as is so often is the case with rose-flavored/scented foods, did not quite stand up in the bargain. The Valrhona hot chocolate was indeed luscious and lovingly prepared, but a bit heavy-handed in the addition of rose flavoring. It’s a problem encountered a lot in recipes that attempt to incorporate a lovely hint of rose, but instead leave a lingering sense of having ingested perfume, or soap.

It transported me back to the first recipe I ever encountered that called for rose water. Many moons ago, when the Three Points Cooks first got together in the kitchen,  Bon Appetit magazine published an over-the-top recipe for brownies that called for both semi-sweet and milk chocolate, coconut, whipped egg whites, rum, Amaretto, and rose water. And that made it irresistible. Who knows where we even located a bottle of rose water in those days before gourmet markets became a fixture on every corner, but whipping up a batch of those lovelies forever changed my perception of how food and fragrance could combine to elevate commonplace ingredients. Just a touch of rose water takes chocolate to a whole other place.  It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly — maybe some magical mix of serotonin-releasing elements and sense memories – but rose water enhances the very chocolaty-ness of chocolate, with an injection of ethereal freshness.

That discovery sent me off in search of other chocolate and rose dessert combinations, which remain relatively uncommon even now, years down the road, when all our taste buds have become more accustomed to the addition of herbs to sweets and floral notes to savories. Perhaps it’s because so many of them fall into the trap of a soapy overdose of rose. The idea is for the rose essence to be barely noticeable, a subtle whisper, an alluring perfume. That’s always been the beauty of this particular recipe to me. Tasters who are pretty sure they know what they’re getting with a brownie will raise an eyebrow in surprise and ask about the secret ingredient. Is it brandy? Marzipan? A particular kind of chocolate? They pick up on something, but can’t quite place it.

Rose water can be tricky, to be sure. Different brands seem to have different levels of strength, and it’s easy to overdo. Think of it as an extract, starting with a portion of the amount called for in any recipe, and taste for balance.

Try the recipe here: Chocolate-Coconut Brownies

Corn Bread vs. Cornbread

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Corn bread or cornbread?
Corn bread or cornbread?

Over the years a vendor at the local farmer’s market has occasionally offered a corn bread. Not a cornbread, the often sweet quick bread, but a yeast bread with some cornmeal added to the dough that was baked into a round loaf. During the summer it made a marvelous BLT. But its appearance was sporadic, and I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile. Or thought much about it. Until a trip to Slovenia, where, lo and behold, a yeast-raised corn bread was part of the bread basket wherever we went. Toasted, it was fabulous for breakfast, with a drizzle of honey.

Sure, cornbread, that American staple, is a great option to accompany chili, stews and other hearty winter fare. But you really ought to give corn bread a try. 

Two favorites for a Corn Bread/Cornbread Throwdown: 

Maple Cornbread: Via King Arthur Flour, a ,moist easy-as-pie recipe that smells heavenly when baking, thanks to a touch of maple syrup.

Rhode Island Corn Bread: From the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. The name says New England, but this recipe captures the taste of those wonderful Slovenian bread baskets.

Sir Mix-a-Lot

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Cheers
The Last Word

The cocktail shaker gets a workout whenever Dave, the family mixologist, comes to town. Cocktail of the Day offerings this time around included a mix of classics with a twist and Dave’s own specialties, all gin-based:

Waldocot: A true original, created to utilize Allspice Dram, a Caribbean liqueur that’s not an easy mixer. Dave hit on the idea of blending with apricot liqueur, which takes the Allspice Dram out of the realm of wintry flavored drinks, where it tends to land. The  name? A nod to the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City that Dave calls home.

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Yuzu and other essential oils

The Florilegium: 

A martini variant finished with essential oils, which bump up the aroma and flavor. The name is taken from the Medieval Latin word for a gathering of flowers, or collection of fine extracts from the body of a larger work, and here’s why. For one drink, shake 1/2 ounce gin and 3/4 ounce Lillet blanc with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with one drop each of clove and yuzu (distillation of these and other essential oils available via our friends at Herbal Alchemy).

The Last Word: A magical mix with Chartreuse, lime juice and Maraschino liqueur.

Homemade Poire William.Dobrava.8.9.13
Pear in the bottle for a homemade pear liqueur

Aviation Poire: A  touch of pear liqueur lifts the classic Aviation cocktail to another altitude.

English Rose: A dainty name for a cocktail that packs a punch, with gin, apricot liqueur, dry vermouth and grenadine.

Q is for Quince

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420px-Pancrace_Bessa00There’s something old-fashioned about quince. It could be partly because the fruit is rarely seen in U.S. markets these days, despite its likeness to the apples and pears that overflow grocery bins. That very scarcity, coupled with the fact that quinces have a dry, astringent flesh that needs to be cooked, and so can’t be eaten out of hand like their more alluringly juicy cousins, might explain why the fruit isn’t a part of our typical repertoire, even though quince trees are still abundant – and abundantly ignored – around the country.

A tasting of quince jam, served on a cracker with a bit of cheese at the greenmarket, persuaded me to pick up a few of these fall fruits. After all, cheese and quince paste (in a form somewhere between a dense jelly and fruit leather) are a classic pairing in Spanish cuisine. (I’ve even been known to serve some cheese and quince paste on matzo for a tapas meal served during Passover.) And the idea of cooking up a quick jam or compote that could accompany a meal of roast meats and vegetables, or be utilized for dessert in a tart of pastry, seemed appealing.

photoA browse through The Foods & Wines of Spain, by Penelope Casas (Knopf, 1982) turned up a version of the jam, and Banda de Almendra (Almond and Marmalade Puff Pastry Strips),which would take advantage of some puff pastry in the freezer. The quince (membrillo) marmalade cooks up in no time, and a little bit tops puff pastry strips, sprinkled in this case with some chopped leftover walnuts. A Spanish-born sampler recognized them immediately: “Ah, membrillo!” After he relayed that they also known as Corbatas (“ties”), a batch was obligingly shaped into neckties. 

RECIPES:

Banda de Almendra

Quince Marmalade