Category Archives: party

Garden Fresh: Blackcurrant Chocolate Zucchini Cake


This luscious, spicy, fragrant cake with heavenly-decadent chocolate and winey-rich blackcurrant tones is anything but usual. Kids love it, adults rave about it and guests will be mooching you for the recipe every time you would make this cake for birthday party (speaking of, with its consistency, this cake is born to have some candles in it) or any other celebration… 
Let’s put it this way: with 2 ½ cup of fresh zucchini and 1 ½ cup of fresh blackcurrant berries (still retaining its antioxidants upon baking) inside you will forget frozen Sara Lee cakes or those hasty chocolate things made from the box for a while. Just a bit of an effort and the sweetly rich reward will be a highlight of your next celebration.
Although most of our currants have been eaten by the birds this year (not only humans are trying to benefit from the summer bounty – farmers know it big time), I still managed to salvage some and was excited to make something really good out of little glossy black spheres known for their alluring tart flavor and sublime aroma. I also managed to pick a few baby zucchinis at their prime before they would turn into some giant monsters after all this rain. Naturally, I got a nail in my head to use both in some amazing combination: chocolate cake idea came first and last.
The blackcurrant berries add delicious tang to the food of the Gods (aka chocolate) and neutral zucchini in the cake. When cooked in desserts (see the British Eccles cakes recipe, for example), syrups (think famous French crème de cassis and a delectable ‘Kir’ drink with champagne), jams or coulis (for savory dishes, including steaks and stews), the currants’ aggressive tartness becomes well muted releasing the berries unique aroma and their astringency creates an added woodsy and piquant flavor.
I’ve been baking chocolate zucchini cakes before, but, somehow, always wanted to have a better formula for the cake to be: more dense or moist; with more balanced spices or sugar; have a foolproof baking time, etc. Many recipes I’ve tried had ridiculously short baking time for the temperatures of 325F to 350F and the amount of zucchini in them: I found it quite annoying having had to check the readiness again and again. 
The last one I’ve tried from otherwise quite good recipe book, didn’t have any salt in it and had the amount of ground cloves enough to stop the toothache of four people. The smell of baking ground cloves made a long-lasting potpourri effect in the house though, which was OK with me.  Naturally, I dialed the cloves back in the subsequent recipe along with other adjustments, including:
– adding blackcurrants;
– squeezing dry shredded zucchini;
– replacing just white sugar with half and half  brown and white;
– adding 1/2 teaspoon sea salt;
– adding 1 teaspoon finely ground Blue Mountain coffee (to enhance the chocolate flavor);
– cutting the 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves to 1/4 teaspoon of cloves;
– adding 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
– adding 30 minutes of baking time 

Oh that HAPPY KAYKEY! Moist, slightly fudgy, dense with chocolate chips and currents still intact on top for an extra punch… I could taste a hint of the coffee which I found boosted the chocolate flavor in a right direction. As usually, buttermilk plays a big role to have the best results with any soda cake – make sure you have it among your ingredients when ready.
Voila, the simple visual steps:

SUBSTITUTES: If you can’t get currants, feel free to sub with gooseberries, sour cherries or cranberries (frozen are OK too) – each would add a different tone and character, but approximately same level of tang and freshness. Equally, you can swap zucchini for the same amount of shredded tart apples and tart berries for neutral blueberries to have a Chocolate Apple Berry Cake. Well, if you won’t, I will for sure in one of those next posts, this recipe is worth to play with.
Currants of all kinds are now available at all farmers markets – don’t miss this short season to try the wonderful, unique taste of these berries. I’m sure you won’t have problem to find a way to use some of those extra zucchini, but if you are short of ideas for the currants, here are some other interesting recipes from fellow bloggers, Food Network and New York Times in which you can use them successfully: 
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Black Current Jam, recipe from David Leibovitz

Black Current Sorbet, recipe from New York Times

Grape Black Current Granita, recipe from Food Network

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BLACKCURRANT CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE
Yields: 15 to 20 pieces

Ingredients:

Unsalted butter, for the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely ground coffee (optional)
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups grated zucchini, squeezed dry
1/2 cup fresh blackcurrants
10 inch diameter spring form for baking

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round spring pan. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.

Toss 1/3 cup chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon flour in a small bowl. Whisk the remaining flour, the cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and coffee in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat the butter, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until smooth and pale, about 3 minutes. Add the flour-cocoa mixture; beat on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes (the batter will be thick). Fold in zucchini and beat until combined, about 2 more minutes. Fold in the flour-coated chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Distribute blackcurrants and 1/4 cup chocolate chips on top of the cake carefully.  Place in the oven. After 10 minutes of baking, reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, for about 1 hour and 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

Adapted from: The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook by Tracey Medeiros, The Countryman Press, 2013

Restaurant Style Flaky Bread Recipe


This recipe has bewitched Bon Appétit (BA) magazine to the point it was called their favorite bread of 2014. According to BA’s recipe developer and writer, Alison Roman, ‘It’s not often you dream about something you ate at a restaurant. But the warm, buttery, pull-apart, roti-esque ‘’flaky bread’’at Brooklyn’s Glasserie is powerful stuff. Once I made my own version, I found even more to love: It’s easy to throw together (just five ingredients) and crazy versatile (eat it with eggs in the morning, with dip for a snack, or wrapped around grilled meat at dinner). Best of all, you can make the dough ahead of time, freeze, and when a craving strikes or a friend stops by unannounced—boom! Just griddle and you’re good to go.’ Sounds intriguing, no? FYI, the bread from the Glasserie’s menu with focus on Middle Eastern food is called Griddle Bread.  Guess what, we’ve been having a recurring stash of the flaky/griddle bread dough in our freezer for the last 10 months and have no plans to abandon this habit. There is only one way for you to find out why, n’est-ce pas?  

The enchanting flaky bread is painfully similar to Paratha bread originating from South India, but who cares, right? As long as it can enthrall so many readers and bread-making enthusiasts, I’m in for the journey, and hopefully so will be you. I actually bothered to compare the traditional Paratha bread and the BA’s Flaky Bread recipes and discovered only one difference: ghee vs butter. The name Paratha means the ‘layers of cooked dough’ (with ghee or butter + salt successfully breaking it into the warm salty flakes when cooked). Whichever was the source the flaky bread inspiration morphed from, I have to admit: this bread is a total winner as no-leavening part of making it, flaky-salty crisp and ability to match almost anything edible you can think of with it, make it absolutely superior to many other bread creations. 

If you happen to be moving on July 1st (the weirdest thing to do on Canada Day and oddly enough, the most popular one in Quebec), this snack might save your day.

Bring it to your next potluck gathering or picnic, dress it with the blanket of homemade hummus or lentil avocado spread and it will jazz up the party in an instant – a highly rewarding experience I lived through already.

Equally, just a dollop or melting butter or ghee with some spiced honey drizzle over the hot flaky bread make complex and powerful flavor-texture dynamic with the subtle punch of sweet fire from chili honey which is hard to forget. And, hey, don’t you think about the calories when eating it or you will ruin the feast! PS: the quote above is for the re-assurance.

Two most important conditions to make the flaky bread a success: SALT for sprinkling and the right SKILLET. Salt has to be flaky: Maldon salt is suggested in the recipe, but I got away for less with fleur de sel or grey unrefined fine sea salt of French or Greek origin.  The cast iron skillet or griddle is highly advised, although I found it also very satisfactory to use ROCK-style pan, like the one in the image above and the one you can see on the images: it has white spots on the surface
Im skipping the visual step of making dough as this post is written on a short notice, but it’s no brainer as the recipe below explains. I suggest while making dough coils though, try to add some bits of bacon or cheese in them for an extra decadence.

Lets put it this way: I hope it will warm up your morning tomorrow (the forecast says we will have ‘cats and dogs’) and may be with the number of great dips or stuffing and some help of Sugar Sammy’s episodes  will help to bring the ‘two solitudes’ closer.

Happy Canada Day and Cheers to All!

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RESTAURANT STYLE FLAKY BREAD
Yields: 10 flaky breads
Ingredients:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for brushing (about 10)
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), or fleur de sel, or Mediterranean natural unrefined fine sea salt  
Olive oil (for parchment)
Instructions:
Whisk kosher salt and 3 cups flour in a large bowl. Drizzle in melted butter; mix well. Gradually mix in ¾ cup water. Knead on a lightly floured surface until dough is shiny and very soft, about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic; let rest in a warm spot at least 4 hours.
Divide dough into 10 pieces and, using your palm, roll into balls. Place balls on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 15 minutes.
Working with 1 piece at a time, roll out balls on an un-floured surface with a rolling pin into very thin rounds or ovals about 9” across. (If dough bounces back, cover with plastic and let rest a few minutes.)
Brush tops of rounds with room-temperature butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Roll up each round onto itself to create a long thin rope. Wind each rope around itself to create a tight coil.
Working with 1 coil at a time, roll out on an un-floured surface to 10” rounds no more than ⅛” thick. Stack as you go, separating with sheets of parchment brushed with oil.
Heat a large cast-iron griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Working 1 at a time, brush both sides of a dough round with room-temperature butter (omitting the butter-brushing step made a better job in my case) and cook until lightly blistered and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer bread to a wire rack and sprinkle with sea salt.
Ahead: Coils can be rolled out 1 month ahead; wrap tightly and freeze. Cook from frozen (add 1–2 minutes to cooking time).

Adapted from: Flaky Bread Recipe by Alison Roman, Bon Appétit magazine, 02/2014

Tequila Boom-Boom Spare Ribs Recipe

Tequila Boom-Boom BBQ Sauce Spare Ribs

¡Hola, amigos! Here’s something different for you to swirl with the set of ingredients from the lands of Aztecs and Maya: Tequila Boom-Boom Sauce Spare Ribs recipe. If you are looking for something new to try this Father’s day, this might be of an interest. These ribs will assure your papa’s (+ party) complete satisfaction.  We devoured them with gusto and had a good Mexican laughabout any rib sauce we’ve tried previously including the sickly-sweet and flat commercial sauces. For the secret ingredients, I basically added some tequila and a few new capsicum varieties to my staple Cajun BBQ sauce. The base sauce has a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity as well as and a long record of successful meat and poultry basting for all kinds of events in case you will be looking for a kids-friendly version and would wish to omit tequila. However, the new version layered with tequila, arbol, ancho chiles and Cholula makes it better and bolder for my adult taste.

Tequila Boom-Boom BBQ Sauce
Tequila shot added to the BBQ spare rib sauce

The upside of this recipe is that you can make the ribs and sauce way in advance of the event (fully cooked or par-cooked),  up to 48 hours ahead if you keep it in the fridge and/or up to a week sealed and kept in the freezer saving yourself time and headache of the party prep. It will also travel well and will make a centerpiece appetizer or main.

The downside is that you would have to allow at least 3.5 hours to make it.

The most popular tequila Jose Cuervo makes an excellent base for Tequila Boom-Boom drink
Tequila Boom-Boom is actually a Mexican drink made of equal parts of tequila and Sprite (or similar, like 7Up or ginger ale) served in a rock glass with a dash of Grenadine syrup.  Another name of this drink is a Tequila Slammer, because of the way the drink is taken:  the fifth of the glass is empty to allow the mix of tequila and carbonated drink to fizz. You then put your hand over the top of the glass and slam it onto the bar counter to mix it. This move causes the drink to foam fast, so you have to drink it immediately, or it will spill. This drink is strong; I didn’t want to get intoxicated early in the afternoon, so I decided to give a splash of it to my favorite my favorite BBQ pork rib sauce I was making the other day.  The result was amazing, definitely worth sharing.  I marked Seven Up  optional in the recipe to make the sauce stickier and to cut on evaporation and caramelization time for your convenience.
Several dried capsicums and ground coffee are used in the rub and added to the BBQ sauce

Capsicums and the spice rubs are all rage this summer with dozens of new varieties and combinations coming from all over the globe. I am more than willing to try them all.  This recipe obviously took Mexican direction, so in addition to tequila I used crushed arbol flakes, ancho chile powder and Cholula spicy sauce, all originating from the Bestico (aka Mexico).  Naturally, you can have tequila swapped with whiskey, bourbon, gin or vodka depending on your preference and give it some other cultural direction to Memphis, St. Louis, etc. (the recipe gives a choice of chilis if pure Mexican fare is hard to find in your area).

Perfectly cooked ribs should be tender, but still juicy and not falling off the bone.

The recipe below is the oven BBQ method, which I much prefer to the grilling method for both, time and quality results. Albeit, I often combine both by baking ribs in the oven until ready and almost falling off the bone; and finishing them on a low BBQ heat for the basting part of 15 minutes. FYI, the most appreciated ribs are not supposed to fall off the bone. According to the famous carnivore, Jay Rayner, the best tasting pork ribs should be tender, but still juicy and well attached to the bone. The falling off the bone is a sign of an overcooked, overfrozen or over-re-heated meat. Properly cooked ribs should still have some resilience and chew and would pull cleanely off the bone with your teeth.

Rubbing spare ribs with the mix of spices and herbs.
Makin BBQ sauce and ribs’ brushing stage
Cutting spare ribs into individual portions

Voila, our succulent out of this world ribs are done and ready to be served.
OK, one rib down already while I’m still taking pictures! That’s a good sign. Someone’s gonna be happy tonight…

For the summer side course, keep it simple: boiled/grilled seasoned corn and refreshing coleslaw salad (recipe will follow shortly).  For the corn seasoning, try the Lime Chili Butter, OR brush it with my new favorite: Honey-Cinnamon Butter -1 tablespoon of salted butter melted with a dash of honey (or maple syrup) and a pinch of cinnamon.
Tequila Boom-Boom Spare Ribs with Russian Slaw and Honey Cinnamon Corn Sides
For the colder days, pasta with simple tomato sauce made from the garden tomatoes would make an amazing companion to these ribs. I suspect, Daddy won’t trade it for the world’s best cupcake as this would be so much better than mac n’ cheese.

Enjoy and don’t forget to serve the paper towels!

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TEQUILA BOOM-BOOM BBQ SPARE RIBS
Yields: 4 main to 8 appetizer portions
Ingredients:

1 rack of pork spare ribs (2 pounds, or 1 kg)

Spice Rub:
2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile or cayenne powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coffee
1/2 freshly ground black pepper
Tequila BBQ Sauce 

1 small dried arbol pepper, crushed, OR , 1 teaspoon of regular chili flakes

1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup Seven Up (optional)
juice of one lime
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
1/2 cup molasses, OR honey, OR maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Cholula chili sauce, OR Tabasco
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Trim the ribs of any excess fat or sinew.  Remove the thin membrane from the back side of the ribs and discard (PS: I’m not always doing it, but this would prevent the ribs from coiling). Optionally, cut the rack in 4 individual portions for a better fit into the baking pan.

Combine the paprika, ancho chile powder, coarse salt, paprika, oregano, marjoram, cumin, garlic, onion powder, ground coffee and black pepper together in a mixing bowl to make a rub.  Rub the mixture into the ribs on both sides and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Place ribs into a baking pan (I prefer the glass one), cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil, turn the ribs over. Cover back with foil and bake ribs for another 45 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the basting tequila sauce (see the instructions below). When done, the ribs will be tender and the meat will have shrunk back from the bones.
Lower the oven temperature to 275F. Brush the ribs generously with the Tequila BBQ sauce and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the ribs over and brush with the sauce. Return to the oven for 7-10 minutes. Repeat coating the ribs on both sides for another 5 minutes each side. Remove from the oven. Brush with extra sauce if wish be. Let stand for a few minutes, cut in individual portions if necessary and serve.

Tequila BBQ Sauce:

Soak the dried chili flakes in a small bowl with a few tablespoons of hot water to rehydrate for 5 minutes.  Add the soaked flakes, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, tequila, Seven Up, lime juice, onion, garlic, molasses, hot sauce and salt and pepper to the blender or food processor.  Pulse few times until the mixture is smooth. Equally, you can grate the onion and garlic and just mix the ingredients in a bowl with the fork.

Sour Cherry Babka with Quark Cheese & Maple Glaze Recipe


Keep the Metamucil close, because I’m coming at you with this totally irresistible, incredibly addictive Babka with sour cherries, quark/cream cheese and maple syrup glaze. This brioche-like Babka is an awesome culinary cross between Slavic and Jewish Easter recipes. It’s a great sweet bread to make few days in advance of Easter and keep it at the room temperature or in the fridge (while secretly cutting slices at night when no one can see you devouring it with melted chocolate drizzle and ice cream).

The maple syrup glaze made with one of those gorgeous maple products you procured the other day at the SS fair will have time to get absorbed and you can add a fresh layer of it just before serving.

The down side of this yeasted cake is that you have to find half a day to make it. Allow yourself exactly 4 hours and 40 minutes to have the Babka finally baked and cooling. We made it last night, finished at almost midnight, so there will be no detailed pictures of the steps of making the dough, but I don’t think you really need them. I know the leavening part is imputed to often baking flops. Many of home bakers lambaste themselves over it, but you’ll never know until you try, right? When armed with the proper ingredients, right proportions and yeast that IS actually ACTIVE, I see no reason anyone would fail this mission.

On the upside, this Babka is incredibly deliscious and versatile with some extra additions like honey, melted chocolate, butter, maple syrup, caramel, etc. It can be stored at the room temperature for up to three days or for few days longer in the fridge.

Sour cherries give a great fresh tang balanced delicately with the cheese mix (lightened with the quark cheese instead of pure cream cheese and maple syrup to replace sugar) and spongy, yeasty dough. Simple and attainable goodness and a stunning center piece (given you saved your night trips to the fridge for the better days).

Our midnight steps… followed by some blurry final shots…

The boring part is the waiting times for the dough to rise, which on the other hand, gives you time to do many other things in between. Otherwise it’s fun to whisk, rock and roll. But if you feel that you are not yet ready for the challenge and might find the experience still humiliating, just wait till I post something much simpler but equally adorable next week.

Happy Easter Baking!
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PS: Here are some other good ideas for the Easter breads we’ve posted previously:  
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MAPLE GLAZED SOUR CHERRY BABKA WITH CHEESE
Yields: 10 to 12 portions
Ingredients:
For the Babka Dough:
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup, plus 2 tbsp plus a pinch of granulated sugar
¾ cup warm milk
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
3 cups all-purpose flour, extra for the surface
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for the bowl, pan and lining parchment paper
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp of cream for an egg wash
1 ½ cups pitted fresh, thawed or drained sour cherries
For the Filling:
6 ounces quark cheese
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 egg yolk
¼ cup maple syrup plus 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
For the Glaze:
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp milk
Instructions:
Sprinkle yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar over warm milk in a medium bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Whisk together remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, the egg, and yolk. Whisk into the yeast mixture.
Combine flour and ½ teaspoon salt in the bowl of a mixer. Add egg mixture. Beat on low speed until almost fully combined, for about 30 seconds. Switch to the dough-hook attachment. Add butter. Beat until smooth, soft and slightly sticky, for about 10 minutes.
Butter a large bowl. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface; knead for a few minutes until smooth. Place in bowl, turn to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Make the filling: stir together quark cheese, cream cheese, egg yolk, maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar.
Punch down dough. Transfer to a floured work surface. Let stand for 5 minutes. Roll out to an 18-inch square (about 1/8 inch thick). Brush edges with egg wash. Spread the filling over the dough. Top with cherries. Tightly roll dough like a jelly roll. Pinch seam to seal. Coil into a snail shape on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with egg wash.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Drape plastic wrap over dough. Let stand in a warm place until risen by half, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap. Cut six ½-inch slits into top. Bake rotating halfway through, until golden, for about 55 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake until deeply golden, 15 to 20 minutes more (cover with foil if the top gets too dark). Transfer pan to a wire rack. Let cake cool.
Make the glaze: Mix together maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar and milk. Add more sugar or milk to reach the desired consistency. Drizzle over cake. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from: Martha Stewart’s Yeasted Cheese and Sour Cherry Coffee Cake

Shucking Oysters: Mighty Aphrodite Granita

Air chilled September has arrived to the East coast with the oyster season fanfare first in Montreal  and now in the New York City. If you’re an oyster geek or just an exploring amateur,  it’s time to learn a few new things about the little bivalve and the best ways to enjoy it. For those who can’t go to the Big Apple or line up for the new celebrity chefs’ oyster creations, there’s plenty to catch up with: dozens of fresh oyster varieties have just arrived into all major groceries and are now available for the price of a lollipop per pop. So if the shucking oyster party is your thing (which you can still enjoy outdoors as the current street temperature provides the best timing to serve and taste the oysters), it’s time to experiment with the new oyster condiments.

The New York Oyster Week founder Kevin Joseph has just declared a war on the traditional cocktail sauce from seventies (it’s about time someone bans that dreary creation out loud) and strongly encourages that people start using some freshly ground condiments like horseradish to bring the best out the fresh oyster. And here is when I pitch in with my latest granita, little icy Sicilian dessert that was first made with the snow from the Mount Etna.

Specifically, my new favorite, which I called Mighty Aphrodite Granita – a Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint Granita. Don’t get me wrong, I still love classic Mignonette sauce  like any other person, and totally agree with Nigel Slater that ‘nothing quite takes the salty, iodine tang off a good oyster like the shallot vinegar, Tabasco and lemon.’ But there’s something I’ve discovered about granitas: they can make a really creative condiment (a little step up from just a generic lemon) that would not only complement the taste of the oyster, but would also make a perfect palate cleanser or an entremet between sampling different kind of oysters, so your palate’s capacity will be enhanced to actually catch the difference between say Malpeque from Kumamoto, or Raspberry Point, or many other varieties (check  Montreal’s La Mer for the local stock).

Granitas are very easy to make: the icy texture can be reached without any special equipment (like the one required for sorbet) – all you need is fork, tray and freezer. They make a stunning presentation. The melt fast, so your oyster will not be compromised with too much ice. And then there’s something else: there’s no particular proportion – you can customize your own granitas with your own amounts and preferred ingredients to reach the sweetness-sourness-saltiness balance according to your needs.

Julia Child mentioned in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking that the French Royal Court preferred to pair the oysters with Sauternes, the famous sweet wine of the Bordeaux region. This inspired me to make a sweet, slightly acidic granita with a splash of dessert wine, sugar, lemon juice and the refreshing touch of ginger, cucumber and mint. The result was outstanding. And guess what, if you don’t have any botrytis wine at hand, you can successfully replace wine with a dash of champagne or rice vinegar. Or just omit the alcohol completely and your granita will still taste heavenly and will make a fun and clever condiment or an entremet.  And don’t forget to use some liquid leftovers to wet the rim of the shot glasses before dipping it in a lemon, celery or your choice of salt mixture for any chilled booze you would like to serve with your oysters (from sake to tequila to Guinness).  

As much as I’m for letting the imagination go experimenting with citrus granitas, a word of a personal warning: stay away from experimenting with soya or ponzu sauce granitas – they are too overpowering and completely kill the taste of the oysters. I made some on our last Valentine and they both ended up in a trash leaving us to a humble simili-caviar condiment only, but then of course the good ol’ mignonette arrived to help in a jiffy. 

Back to our feature Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint granita: three -five minutes work, an hour in a freezer, basically all the job is about forming ice crystals with the fork every 15-30 minutes depending on the quantity you make. You can serve as a little refreshing adult digestive or dessert as well. Believe me, I wouldn’t waste my time on writing this if it wasn’t absolutely delectable condiment, dessert re-fresher and a palate cleanser. 

One nice slurp of a briny devilish oyster followed by the tiny spoon of this pristine pure-tasting granita will pair and separate both gracefully (‘with a bite of the buttered brown bread to follow to stimulate the papilles… and then of course, a fine mouthful a white wine’, as recommended by legendary M.F.K. Fisher). You will only wish to continue tasting that dance and at some point might actually start feeling one step closer to a mighty Aphrodite (with, obviously, cucumber green hair and a piece of ginger in her hand for this recipe), the Greek goddess of love, who sprang from the sea on an oyster shell. And then the myth of the little aphrodisiac was born… Which ultimately brings me to Jay Rayner’s advice to ‘never date a man with no taste for oysters’ from The Guardian’s article ‘If You Don’t Like Oysters,You Will Never Be a Grown-Up’, but that’s another story…

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‘Mighty Aphrodite’ Lemon Ginger Mint Cucumber Granita
Ingredients:
½ cup (125 ml) water
1 juice & few peels of a lemon
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced
3 tbsp (45 ml) granulated sugar (put more if desired)
1 small splash of dessert white wine (Sauternes at best, but cheaper dessert wines, or champagne, or rice vinegar can sub) (optional)
2 spring fresh mint
1 small cucumber, grated or liquefied
24 freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell
Pinch of salt
Instructions:
Place water in a small pan with granulated sugar, ginger and lemon peel /juice. Heat gently to medium-high and lower the temperature. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes, remove from heat, add a splash of wine mint leaves, mix and set aside to cool down. Strain the liquid through a sieve. Grate cucumber with skin on the zester or liquefy it in the blender with a bit of syrup. Sieve if desired and pour into the rest of the syrup.
Freeze for one hour or until mixture is frozen around the edges in a shallow container or plate.
Draw the ice from the edges towards the center with a fork. Return to freezer. Repeat this process about 3-4 times, every 15-20 minutes, or until all mixture is formed of ice crystals. Serve immediately as condiment or entremet, or keep in the air tight container in the freezer until ready to use for up to one week.  When ready to serve, spoon the granita into wine goblets, shot or martini glasses.