Category Archives: condiment

Hail to Watermelon and Its Rind


‘I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins”; I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front if the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.’- Mark Twain

What can I say? For such a poetic admiration and knowledge of citrullus lanatus, I’d like Mark Twain’s spirit to guide me through my next watermelon picking, ‘cause those knocking tips never work for me. Which is why I liked the idea to make some watermelon pickles. I didn’t have to make a lot of research – the Bon Appétitmagazine has already hooked me on it last summer.

There were some red flags about the recipe including only 3 stars reviews, copious amount of sugar, zero water added, etc. You can find the recipe here.

Despite the flags, my loyalty to Bon Appétit has won. I enthusiastically worked the watermelon rinds  into the wonderful pickles while taking these pictures.

They smelled wonderful and turned out to be exactly like the ones on the BA images. I was anxious to try them next day.

The day after I took the first bite. Hmm. How should I describe it? You know those exotic chutneys you sometimes buy on liquidation that inevitably end up in the garbage after sitting in the fridge for 6 months? It was worse. The watermelon rind juicy freshness was completely gone – buried in sugar, salt and spice like a mummy. I can almost guarantee this listless thing could last in a jar for a century. Well, I still gave it a chance with a few more days in the fridge and a small tapas party. People would take a bite, but it would be the last one. It followed the destiny of the exotic chutney. Fortunately, I cut the recipe in half, so I had only two jars to throw out. I did made a note though about adding the ginger and anise star, because both sounded refreshing in the pickle recipe.

I started looking for the real authentic recipe of a watermelon pickle: the one that would put a smile on those faces surviving the great depression a century ago. I found a great one (with good reviews this time) in the “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan (recipe follows).  I could finally get what was the fuss about the old-fashion treat (with much less sugar and prominent lemon flavor). Sorry, no pictures for obvious reason (I wasn’t sure it would work). People at the next tapas party had it with much more enthusiasm. I started adding it to salads and cold soups.

Still, as good as a classic watermelon rind pickle can be, as a great connoisseur of kosher pickles I insisted on finding some other trick that would keep that feeling of freshness of a watermelon and all its vital nutriments intact without boiling the rind.   

I came up with geniusly simple solution: chop the peeled watermelon rind (along with the chunks of watermelon) (2 cups); sprinkle it with quality salt (1/4 tablespoon); add a few slices of ginger and the anise star. Mix a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with the same amount of honey (preferably spiced) and add the liquid to the watermelon rind mix. Cool in the fridge for just 10-15 minutes and off you go (discard the anise star)! Incredibly fresh, youthful and invigorating! I use it now almost daily added to de-puffing shakes, soups, salads, salsas and relishes. I just love this simple healing mix.


Finally, my favorite, watermelon gazpacho with macerated rind: I call it ‘hangover shots’ (huge party pleaser (before or after). The watermelon and honey-cider macerated rind add delectable sweetness and balance to tomatoes. The apple cider vinegar works magic with the glycemic index making it very good for health (if you are into these things) while lifting the umami of the tomatoes and watermelon. This soup is hydrating, rejuvenating and healing. By virtue of having the watermelon and tomatoes together, it doubles the amount of lycopene thus hugely boosting the immune system. Did I say it tastes amazing? The mint gives that pick-me-up finish to help bring you back to life along with the soup itself whether it from the heat, exhaustion or hangover. Gosh, it’s incredible how easy it is at times to make yourself happy.
Enjoy!
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LEMONY WATERMELON RIND PICKLES
Yields: 2 to 3 pints
Ingredients:
Rind from 3 pounds seedless watermelon
7 cups water, divided
5 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
Zest (in large strips) and juice from 1 large lemon
Instructions:
Cut the rind into 1-inch cubes to make around 4 cups.
Combine6 cups of the water and 3 tablespoons of the salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt, then add the watermelon rind and cook until fork tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the watermelon rind and divide among the pint jars.
In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup water with the remaining 2 tablespoons salt, the sugar, vinegar, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and cloves. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Stir the lemon zest and juice into the pickle brine. Pour the brine over the watermelon rind, distributing the spices and lemon zest evenly among the jars. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving. (The pickles will taste very salty at first, but the flavor mellows overnight.)
Note: You will need two to three pint jars and canning lids and rings, cleaned well in soapy water. Because this doesn’t make a huge amount, you can store the finished product in the refrigerator for one to two months rather than canning it. You may have some extra brine, so feel free to add more rind if you have it.
Adapted from: “Root to Stalk Cooking – The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” book by Tara Duggan, 13/08/2013
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MACERATED WATERMELON RIND CONCENTRATE
3 cups water
1 tablespoon quality sea salt (Maldon, fleur de sel, etc.)
1 cup honey (quickly made spice infused honey is the best for this recipe)
2 anise stars
1 knob of ginger, thinly sliced
Few lemon peels (optional)
6 cups peeled watermelon rind, half and half pink and white parts, coarsely chopped
1 cup cider vinegar
Instructions:
Bring the water and the salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the honey and stir to dissolve. Add anise star, ginger and lemon peel to the honey water and stir. Pour the honey-water over the watermelon rind in a large ceramic bowl. Let cool to room temperature. Add apple cider vinegar and mix. Steep the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight. When ready, use the macerated watermelon chunks and the liquid in salads/dressings, cold soups, smoothies, tonic drinks, etc. The mixture can be store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
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MACERATED WATERMELON RIND SUMMER TONIC
Strain the amount of liquid required from the macerated watermelon rind mixture. Pour 1/4 cup of the concentrate into a glass over ice and dilute with 3/4 cup water. Garnish with the cubes of watermelon, cucumber, and mint. 

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WATERMELON GAZPACHO WITH MACERATED RIND
Yields: 2 to 4 portions
Ingredients:
1 pound tomatoes, diced
1 pound seeded and cubed watermelon
½ cup macerated watermelon rind with liquid (see the recipe in the post above), OR 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
1 small to medium size cucumber, diced (peeled and de-seeded if necessary)
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher, Maldon, fleur de sel, or any other quality salt (add more according to your taste)
Feta cheese, crumbled
5 to 10 spearmint leaves for garnish
Instructions:
Combine tomatoes, watermelon, rind, cucumber and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Give it a few pulses until chunky-smooth, but not too smooth. Let cool in the fridge if necessary. Garnish with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Enjoy!

Sweet Meets Heat: How to Make Chilies Infused Honey


Homemade chili-infused honey DIY © http://www.letsheatit.com/
Contrary to what I used to think about the process of making spice infused honey (special room, special temperature, special honey, number of days), it takes only a few minutes to infuse the honey of your choice with chilies, leaving you with a wonderful jar of gold you can drizzle on pizzas, cakes, cheeses or add to salads, soups and stews or your next mojito for a touch of character.  It is not overly spicy (with the amount of chilies used in the recipe below): the chilies infused honey will still keep all the flavor nuances of the terroir the honey came from (if it wasn’t pasteurized) with just a bit of warming lingering spice finish. It totally satisfies my latest indie-influenced take on all things organic.
Honey: from bumblebee to the toast © http://www.letsheatit.com/
While honey continues ‘hitting its sweet spot’ as a flavor of the year 2015 (according to the Swiss company Firmenich specialized in flavors and fragrances), the interest in it expands beyond the tea-time companionship worldwide. Honey is surely set to add some extra charm and wit to the menus helping chefs to bliss out the clientele with all kinds of innovative dressings, glaze, BBQ sauces and marinade combinations. Honey is being added to the ‘glass with class’ by mixologists (from Mead cocktails to Honey vodka and Honey Bee-jito (mojito drink where honey replaces sugar) to Honey Lemonade and Kombucha Smoothies, etc. The honey producers are coming up with numerous amazing products, such as these incredible creamy strawberry honey and raspberry honey jelly we found at Miel pur delice inc. during our last trip to Coaticook, QC.
Miel pur delice inc. creamy strawberry honey and raspberry honey jelly © http://www.letsheatit.com/
I might be a fickle friend with ice cream and milk chocolate, but when it comes to the real honey (raw, naturally,) I’m Ted 1, Ted 2 and whatever other Teds you can imagine. I eat honey every day, all my life and, practically, I can‘t imagine living without it… which is probably normal since I am of the Ukrainian origin. In short: we are planning to raise honeybees when retired and I hope nothing will change this agenda.
Ukrainian postal stamps © via Wikimedia
See the typical Ukrainian honey layered cake below made by one of my best friends recently (don’t ask for the recipe though – it takes a whole day to make it – no one can do that bravery anymore). 
Nata’s Honey Layered Cake © http://www.letsheatit.com/
In the meantime, here are the three places in Quebec we‘ve visited recently that are not to miss:
1. Miels d’Anicet  Api Culture Hautes-Laurentides inc.111, Rand 2 Gravel, Ferme-Neuve, Quebec
Canada, J0W 1C0 (one of the top-rated and the most popular honey used by Quebec chefs; read more about it here). Tel: (819) 587-4825

2. Miel des Ruisseaux 2 924, Route du Lac Ouest, Alma (Québec)
G8B 5V2 Tel: (418) 668-7734 (famous blueberry honey producer: read more about here and here).

Miel des Ruisseaux Blueberry Honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/

3. Miel pur delice inc. 815 route 141, Coaticook (Québec) J1A 2S5, Tel:(819) 849-9994 (see some of their products featured above)

Many others are on our bucket list and will show up in this space eventually.

For my own experiment, I used the honey coming from the land of blueberries: Saguenay – Lac Saint Jean wild blueberry blossom honey from Miel des ruisseaux (fyi: the blueberries are being harvested there as I write this post), which recently became the proud member of ÉCONOMUSÉE network.
Wild blueberries in Saguenay – Lac Saint Jean © http://www.letsheatit.com/
Infusing the honey with chilis in a hot water bath (bain marie) doesn’t alter the taste of the honey: it just warms up and accentuates the blueberry notes (or any other notes of the honey you choose to make spicy) and the heat is very subtle.
DIY steps to make chili infused honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/
The chilies infused honey make an excellent alternative to some expensive commercial chilies infused honeys as well as the welcome condiment in the fridge to help you build some extraordinary flavors.
For some extremely haute cuisine take, lace it over fine brie or blue cheese finish on top of the raspberry almond tea cake – OUCH! Sooo decadent!
Spiced honey drizzled brie on top of the raspberry tea cake © http://www.letsheatit.com/
Or, have on a flaky breakfast pan-fried blistered breakfast bread – simply out of this world!
Flaky pan fried breakfast bread drizzled with spiced honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/
I hope you will enjoy this simple alchemy trick.
Chilies infused blueberry honey © http://www.letsheatit.com/
All the best dear readers.
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ADOBE CHILIES INFUSED HONEY*
Ingredients:
1 cup honey
Two medium-size dried adobe chili peppers, cut in pieces, OR 1 teaspoon dried crushed chili flakes
1 sterilized jar + lid
1 cheese cloth or fine mesh, to strain
Instructions:
Pour the honey into a ceramic heat proof bowl and stir the chili peppers in. Place the bowl into the hot water bath, bring the water to simmer and heat from 3-5 minutes (for less spicy honey) to 15 minutes (for the spicier version). Remove from heat and cool to the room temperature. Strain the honey through the cheese cloth or the fine mesh into the sterilized jar. Refrigerate overnight and store in the fridge for up to a month. Bring the spiced honey to the room temperature before serving or using in dessings, glaze or sauce.
*Feel free to experiment with any other dried or fresh spicy capsicums, including: jalapeno, scotch bonnet peppers, etc.

No Problem Jamaican Jerk from Sunny Negril

Last weekend was blessed with sunshine, we needed so badly to catch up with endless home and garden chores and have the final year’s swim. We also made some excellent grill dedicated to Jamaican Jerk. Traditionally slow-cooked and smoked to delicious perfection, Jerk is a passport to Jamaican street food. This recipe was brought from sunny Negril. If you are anything like me, once you tried a real thing you would always want to make it at home. We make it in every season, even in winter, yes, that’s how much we like it. There is something magical about the jerk, something very West Indies about, embracing all traditional spices, condiments and the taste of Caribbean in general. And it’s super-hot! Nice green salad and beer are the must companions for the Jerk.
Away from wind, rain and cold and back to the happiest memories of so many wonderful vacations with friends and family… We are going to one of my favorite Caribbean food destinations, the reggae homeland, Jamaica. Mon, I love this country. It has everything the perfect vacation is about: clear waters, pristine beaches, lush islands, emerald rivers, fascinating falls, world’s best Blue Mountain coffee, reggae music, fun people and, of course, all kinds of JERK!
There is even a Jerk Trail guide mapwith few dozen of jerk eateries around the island featuring the best jerk dishes, which are not only limited to chicken, but also include pork, shrimp, sausage, even conch specialties. Particularly in Negril, I would currently also add my favorite 3 Dives and De Bar spots to the list of the most authentic Jamaican jerk experiences.
Something tells me a day on the beautiful beach followed by great local specialty sunset dinner to live reggae music for a pocket change is not only my idea of perfect. Speaking of the beach, the Seven Mile Beach in Negril is of course one of the best beaches in Jamaica (which is, reportedly and sadly, now slowly vanishing). Our favorite part of the beach stretch though is along the shore of the Bloody Bay lined in the forest of towering palms at the level of Breezes and Couples Negril hotels (the letter is hard to beat with their level of services and never disappoints).
No need to dress up, a nice barefoot walk in white powdery sand, with clear turquoise water lapping at your toes is all you need to discover the mini-Jamaica from day one: fresh breeze, smell of the pit-fire pimento leaves smoked Jerk, vendors and musicians in those quirky Jamaican hats, little food shacks made of the drift wood…

I’m still keeping one of the little bracelets the funky guy in marijuana glasses (he was smoking pot at the same time) was making for everyone passing by and just giving them away. For those interested, he was also giving a quick lecture about Rastafarianism…

And how about snorkeling, diving in caves, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and some ocean horseback riding experiences – who on Earth can forget that thrill…

I’ve been to different parts of Jamaica and had some of the most authentic jerk experiences from street stands to beach shacks to dinner huts to hotels and restaurants. Every Jamaican chef has his/her own variation of marinade, but there are some key ingredients to it, including allspice (pimento), scallions, thyme, onion, ginger, lime and scotch bonnet peppers.

Warning: scotch bonnet peppers are extremely hot. If you don’t like it too hot and more than one scotch bonnet pepper sounds incendiary to you, limit the recipe to one scotch bonnet pepper only and then taste the marinade to figure out if you’d like to add a few more. Keep a bunch of Red Stripe beer in your fridge to cool down the flames Jamaican way.
Some Jamaican chefs like John Bull from Reggae Kitchen, don’t use ginger in marinade (he remarkably refers to his jerk prep as ‘maya-neering’ or, sometimes, ‘money-raiding’ (perhaps when he wants to share some ganja tales at the same time). Others, like the Carribeanpot Chef, do and my final collective and tested recipe is close to his.
Don’t be put off by the list of marinade ingredients. It really takes maximum 10 minutes to prepare, as long as you are mentally ready and the list is checked off. Just put everything except chicken in a food processor or blender, and puree the ingredients into the paste. Rub it into the chicken immediately and store in the fridge overnight.  Once the chicken is marinated, you can use the classic grill-smoking, oven-baking or pan-frying methods to cook it.
Note: slightly scoring chicken helps to improve the marination process.
Grilling Method:
Traditionally, the jerk is slowly cooked over the pit fire coals with lots of added smoke from pimento leaves.  At the end it’s supposed to be charred, but not over-charred. For additional smoke in your BBQ, add some smoke chips to the grill or place a piece of smoking wood (spraying it with water when it ignites).
Preheat the grill to medium-high or build a medium hot charcoal grill. Clean and lightly oil the grill. Place chicken skin side down, grill for 5 minutes to form the crust. Turn to the other side. Grill for another 5 minutes.  Cover the grill and lower the heat to the minimum. Continue grilling until cooked through for about 30-40 minutes, turning often to prevent burning. Alternatively, (and if/or pressed with other chores), you can transfer the 10-minutes grilled chicken to 350F oven and finish by baking it for 30-40 minutes.
Oven Method:
Preheat the oven to 400F. Place chicken in foiled and greased pan skin side up. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn chicken to the other side. Lower the heat to 350F and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn chicken back to skin side up and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cooked through and the juices are running clear. Transfer chicken to platter, cover loosely with foil and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Pan-Frying Method:
On a cold rainy night, try a simplified ‘spatchcocking’ (flattening) pan-fried method (I described previously in other chicken recipe) for faster and juicier results. Turn on the exhaust (you really need it for this method – the nice cooking jerk smell will go all over the place). Place the chicken on a medium-heated skillet with a bit of oil (1 tsp), brown slightly on one side for 5-6 minutes, turn, cover with heat-resistant plate and weight (I used the flat stone, you can use the brick or the pan filled with water). You will be surprised how moist, tender, yet crispy your marinated jerk can come out from just a frying pan in less than 30 minutes. Of course, this no longer will be a smoked version of jerk, but you will still get most of its amazing flavors.
Serve with a big green salad (like watercress chopped salad I posted previously) and rice to offset the heat and, naturally, a tall glass of cold beer (Red Stripe would bring you closer to Jamaican experience).
Are you ready now to make Jamaican Jerk in your kitchen? Let’s put some nice reggae from a wonderful soundtrack of the Chef movie and proceed to the recipe:

Cheers to the Jerk! Indulge yourself in real Jamaican flavors…
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One year ago: Indian Summer Dinner
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SPICY JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN & MARINADE*
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
*Note: This marinade is also good for grilled pork, fish or sausages.

Ingredients:

2 small to medium-sized chicken (preferably, free range), cut in 4 parts each
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp soya sauce
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
5-6 tbsp apple cider vinegar (optionally, other vinegar)
Juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1 orange (or ¼ cup of orange juice)
1 bunch of (6-10) scallions, coarsely chopped
½ small onion, coarsely chopped
1 thumb knuckle of ginger, skin on
1 tbsp allspice, (preferably, freshly ground)
1 tsp dried thyme or 2 tbsp fresh thyme
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 cloves garlic
1 to 5 scotch bonnet peppers (begin with one and add more after for more heat if desired)*
2-3 tbsp of brown sugar, or Maple Syrup (for Canadian twist)
2 tbsp coarse sea salt
*Note: alternatively, replace scotch bonnet peppers with equal amount of habanero peppers, or double of jalapeno peppers, or 1/3 cup of scotch bonnet sauce.
Instructions:
Lightly score the chicken pieces with few not too deep slits. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor (liquids first, then solids) into a puree. Taste for the salt and add more if desired. Check for spicy, sweet and sour:  the marinade should taste sour-sweet-salt-spicy good and balanced.
Rub the chicken with marinade and refrigerate overnight (to three-five days).
Use one of the cooking methods listed above with instructions: grilled, oven-cooked or pan-fried.
Serve with traditional rice and beans, green salad and beer.

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.

Brewing Your Own Specialty Vinegars


There are million ways to capture the essence of season. Home making herb flower or berry vinegar at the end of summer is my favorite. Not only it’s dumb-easy and fast to make, it can be a child’s play. You can enjoy the results as soon as within 3 days. Use it in variety of stews, dressings, sauces and gravies in upcoming fall and winter and they will always remind of the beautiful and warm summer afternoon you were making them. Give it as a surprise hostess gift to your guests, decorated with tag and nice ribbon and they will always remember you.  Add it to your home spa and it will relax and sooth you beyond imaginable.  Rinse your hair with nettle infused vinegar/water solution and it will shine better than after any L’Oreal professional product. And the list of benefits goes on. Sounds convincing? Great!
First though, a brief digression for fun and to challenge some fellow Montrealers.
This Sunday, August 24th foodie enthusiasts will have a chance to attend the International Gourmet Fair at Cosmodôme in Laval, where they can sample all kind of gourmet foods from local producers  or from around the globe, from Australia to Brazil, Europe to Africa, Mexico to Alaska.  Note: you can save a few bucks on specialty vinegars after this post, because from now on you’ll be able to make them yourself – ta-dah!
Another event (which is quite unusual) designed for singles with dogs is ambiguously called ’Finally, Speed Dating with Your Dog! . For only $5.00 participation fee it can lend you with a perfect match provided you have a dog and are ready to speed-date. That’s if your dog is a well-trained ice-breaker who makes strangers say: ‘God, he’s so cute!’ and wears no muzzle. In this case, I assume you can easily approach a similarly-looking dog’s owner who appeals to you saying: ‘Hey, do I know your dog?’ If the person responds: ‘Yes, it’s the same breed’ it’s a sign he-she is interested. You can now proceed to the ice-breaking topic on how to remove the fleas or make the coat shiny with home-made nettle vinegar and fatty acids  and see where it goes with his/her/dog’s reaction and body language… But if you don’t find your ‘Gerard Butler’ at this event, don’t despair, keep in mind that sometimes ‘a coatrack with a leather jacket on it’ (Tina Fey’s excerpt quote) can be a safer speed-dating option.
All right, enough with entertainment, let’s take a closer look at the infused vinegars. The infused vinegars take the taste and blush of the herbs/flowers/berries along with the part of their nutritional value.  

They can be made with practically any edible herb, flower or berry. Use the herbs you grow in your garden, balcony or you just bough at the farmers market, they are all good as long as you know they are fresh and organic.

Simple how-to: fill the glass container half-way with herbs/flowers/berries (wash them only if see necessary, otherwise use them as is). Pour the vinegar of your choice (from regular white to wine to rice to apple cider to champagne vinegar) to the top. Cover and store in a cool dark place for three days. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, discard the herbs/blossoms and pour vinegar back into the bottle. Cover tightly with non-reactive plastic or cork. Store the infused vinegar in a cool dark place for up to two months.
Tips for the stronger and better quality infusion: warm the vinegar up to the hot, but not boiling point before pouring over the packed herbs/blossoms. Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Equally, you can skip warming up the vinegar and store it for brewing in the sun on the window seal, however, expect the color of the vinegar to fade a little in this case. Final tip from the folk magic: collect your herbs, berries and flowers either in the morning or later in the afternoon to attain the best flavor results.
Below I am giving three recipes for herbal, flour and berry infused vinegars, respectively.
I selected the stinging nettle for herbs because of its versatility. Not only it makes a great, nutty tasting, refreshing component of the salad, stew or soup dressing, it is an amazing skin and hair product for the anti-bites of the insects, soothing baths or the hair rinse (50/50 mix with water). For centuries stinging nettle has been known to add life and vibrancy to weak, distressed and dull hair and help the skull dryness issues as well as the hair loss. Use organic or homemade apple cider vinegar for an extra goodness. And don,t forget the doggie’s coat if you really love your pet!
The rose petals vinegar of an amazing fragrance and lovely magenta color has properties similar to nettle vinegar, except of course you would not add it to the soup (well, a cold almond gazpacho maybe?)  It adds a wonderful floral touch to baking goods, pancakes (try blueberry pancakes with it), fruit salads. It has a cooling and anti-inflammatory effect on insect bites (anti-itch), sunburns, small cuts and even rosacea (mix of 3 parts witch hazel water and 1 part rose petal vinegar). It can be successfully used as a rub to bring down the fever. As for the home-made spa soaks and baths I would only compare it with the luscious lavender vinegar.
Finally, the mix of herbs and berries in vinegars is also an outstanding way to bring the best out of both. My current favorites are: currants & mint (recipe below); juniper berries and sage; blackberries, lemon balm mint and lemon peel.
Good luck brewing your own herbal vinegars!
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One Year Ago: Grilled Sardines 
 
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STINGING NETTLE INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh stinging nettle leaves
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the stinging nettle leaves wearing the gloves. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors. Use in salads, baths, or as a hair rinse (mixed 50/50 with water).
ROSE PETALS INFUSED VINEGAR
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh organic rustic rose petals
2 cups white or apple cider vinegar
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Pack the glass jar with the rose petals. Warm up the vinegar in the non-reactive container in the microwave for 30-40 seconds, or on the stove up to the hot, but not boiling point. Pour over the packed leaves. Mix well gently.  Let cool, cover tightly with the cork or plastic wrap and refrigerate or keep in the cool dark place for 2-3 weeks, shaking from time to time to blend the flavors.
BERRY MINT VINEGAR
Ingredients:
1/4 cup fresh and clean mint leaves
2 cups white wine or rice vinegar
1 ½ cups raspberries, blueberries, currants or blackberries
Glass jar with wide mouth
Instructions:
Chop or slightly rub the mint leaves between your palms. Pack half of the leaves into the jar, add berries, then the rest of mint. Place vinegar in the ceramic or glass container and warm it up in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour hot vinegar over the berries and mint, gently stir to combine. Set aside to cool. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 weeks. The longer the vinegar stands, the stronger the flavors will be. Gently stir the vinegar every few days to blend the flavors.
The last recipe was adapted from: William Sonoma