Category Archives: cider vinegar

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!

Healthy Break: Watercress Cucumber Lettuce Chopped Salad


I realized recently that I rarely showcase chopped salads, yet we eat them regularly in various combinations and dozens of interesting dressings. I used to think they were just plain boring side dish to help digest the main, lacking substance, and too common to talk about. Not surprisingly, they faded into the oblivion on this blog often just making a background dish in photos. I think it’s time now to rescue this dish category, given that I’m currently going through another course on nutrition, thus the importance of fresh veggies in our daily diet can no longer be ignored.  This salad tastes fab and features a super-potent watercress greens and healthy-delicious apple cider vinegar/honey/olive oil dressing.
The recipe was initially inspired by Cucumber Watercress Salad recipe by Rachel Ray’s from her 30 Minute Passport to England Food Network episode (dressing with white vinegar, honey and dill). Then there was Mark Bittman’s watercress salad with delicate rice vinegar dressing and sesame seeds. Then I tried Martha Stewart’s take with Dijon mustard adding the robust tang to the dressing. Finally, I came up with my version of this chopped salad adding lettuce to the ingredients and using home-made apple cider vinegar mixed with honey, lime juice and some olive oil for an extra health benefit. Sometimes I scatter a bit of roasted salted nuts, like cashews or pistachios for an extra crunch and substance. I already know that this version is my favorite, but feel free to experiment with the above additions and you will find yours.  
Peppery bittersweet watercress is one of the oldest greens consumed by humans through the centuries. It is an amazing digestive and powerful antioxidant loaded with vitamin C, A, chlorophyll, calcium and potassium. It maintains the body’s water balance, promotes clear skin and acts as natural antibiotic to boost immunity. Early Romans considered it a valuable brain food strengthening the nervous system. Today, due to the unique phytochemical it contains, it is known primarily for breast, liver, colon and prostate cancer-fighting benefits, which sounds like a rarely powerful food ingredient.   
Watercress goes perfectly well into variety of fresh salads with greens and most of the popular salad veg, including, of course, the radishes.  In fact, I find the trio of arugula, watercress and radishes, full of pungent slightly bitter tang nuances, to be one of the most interesting salad combinations with watercress. When dressed with equally strong home-made blue or feta cheese dressing, it makes a perfect juxtaposition to a heavier main dish.
Naturally, you can get the best from watercress eating it fresh (preferably organic) in salads or juices. I personally love to have a glass of blended watercress, celery, green apple, parsley and pineapple cocktail in the afternoon (whenever I can (which is on Sundays at best, but, I’d like it to be more often)) to boost my energy level. 
In this salad the watercress bitterness is tamed by cucumber, lettuce and cider-lime-honey dressing, which makes it an excellent companion for spicy grilled mains, such as this mystery BBQ dish, which will follow with the next post shortly. Stay tuned.
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WATERCRESS CUCUMBER LETTUCE CHOPPED SALAD
Ingredients:
2 cups watercress leaves, chopped
1 small head Romano lettuce, chopped
1 English seedless cucumber, chopped
3 tbsp honey
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 lime, juiced
3 tbsp orange juice or water
4-5 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh dill for garnish, minced (optional) 
3 tbsp crashed roasted salted cashews or pistachios
Sea salt to taste
Instructions:
Combine lettuce, cucumbers and watercress in a large bowl. Whisk the honey with apple cider vinegar, lime juice and orange juice or water. Add olive oil. Pour over salad and toss to combine. Season with salt and dill (if using) and toss salad again. Garnish with dill and roasted nuts it you wish. Serve immediately.

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

Go Wild and Try Some Violets

Today is special: my best college friend happens to have her anniversary. We never collected violets together, but we did have some crazy-wild, beautiful times that I will never forget. Happy Birthday, dear Ira! Here’s to our friendship: make a dive back into the 90s with this good old school gem from our past. You’re probably too busy now to do anything with violets, but I hope one day you will return from wherever in the world you are now celebrating, and check your e-mail, and find this message, and will be set adrift on memory bliss like me today. And then, eventually, maybe you will even try some of my recipes. Cheers!
My other best friend from Toronto will have her birthday around Victoria’s Day and what can be more Victorian than violets on that day? Happy upcoming B-Day to you, my friend AB, I love you dearly and think about you very often! Another Cheers!  
Back to our food business. Blissfully, our (not chemically treated) lawn is currently invaded by wild violets this spring which I’ve been previously collecting for flower arrangements, but this year I put my hands on developing recipes with them. I always knew that wild violets are highly medicinal: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, high in vitamin C and A, great to relief coughs and sore throats. Never before though I tried them on my palate, but following the Nordic cuisine focus on the native produce, and René Redzepi’s inspiration credo that ‘there’s no conflict between better meal and better world’ I decided to go foraging  and experiment with this new ingredient.  It took no time to figure out that freshly picked edible wild violets (please make sure you are dealing with wild violets, not the decorative ones) are mostly used to garnish dishes, but the vinegar based on them can be applied to an array of foods. I’ve made some research and here are the dishes I came up with using violets and/or violet vinegar:  Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup for a hot day; Green Pistachio Violet Salad for a light healthy lunch; Bacon Asparagus with Violet Vinegar Reduction Appetizer for a decadent treat and, finally, Violet Dressed Cupcakes for celebrations. I’ll begin with the violet infused vinegar.
Violet Infused Vinegar:
I used rice vinegar, but you can use any kind of basic vinegar as a base, depending what kind of result you’re looking for – delicate (based on a rice, apple cider or champagne vinegar) or more acidic (white, red or white wine vinegar). Collect violets from clean and pesticide-free areas, preferably where cats or dogs do not make their breaks. Fill the glass bottle/jar about half full of violets and pour vinegar of your choice over them to fill up. Use a non-metallic cork to close and let the vinegar sit for a week in a cool dark place. It will become between a pink and magenta color hues depending on the flowers-stems ratio and the hue of the violets. Strain the vinegar and store for a year or longer in a glass container. You can use only flowers for a darker color, or flowers with stems for a lighter one. Here are the steps:

Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup inspired by classic Spanish Cucumber Almond Gazpacho and a lovely Spanish girl (Hola, Ana!). When freshly picked, the violets faintly smell like a cucumber or a grape candy, so I had the idea to use them along with violet vinegar in a cold gazpacho-style soup with almonds, grapes and cucumbers. An absolute must try on a hot spring-summer day, with or without the violet garnish. Killer app: add some red grapes to the soup mix to enhance the color-coordinated violet look.

Green Pistachio Violet Salad inspired by Watercress Pistachio and Orange-Blossom Salad by Chef Yotam Otolenghi: 
I replaced the watercress with spring mix, skipped the herbs and swapped the lemon juice for the mix of the violet vinegar mixed with ½ teaspoon of rose water in otherwise similar dressing, and of course, added some fresh violets. Light, slightly flowery, pistachio crunchy and well-balanced dish to go with toasted bread or the next dish (bacon!).

Inspired by Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt by Chef Redzepi:

Most of us have experienced the power of pork and vinegar combination in cooking or marinating. Most of us also love bacon (and some are ready to kill for it). Inspired by Chef René Redzepi’s recipe of Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt from his cookbook NOMA, I cooked the bacon, made a reduction of bacon cooking juice (½ cup) with a mix of apple cider (1 tbsp), violet (1 tsp) and balsamic vinegar (1 tsp) and laced the mix of crisp bacon and crunchy steamed asparagus with it. To die for: 
Inspired by Poulet let au Vinaigre de Vin (Chicken With Wine Vinegar) by Chef Bocuse:
The low-acid violet flavoured vinegar suggested a take on a classic French country dish, which celebrity Chef Paul Bocuse is famous for. I baked it instead of pan frying and replaced tomatoes with scallions for a spring touch. And, of course, I garnished it with some fresh violets – stunner of a great tasty dish! 
Finally, edible violet flowers make glamorous dessert topping on the cakes, muffins, cupcakes, parfait, yogurt, sorbet, ice cream, salted caramel, you name it, as well as the violet essence that can give totally different taste. Check how to make candied violets to use in desserts here. 

I had a wonderful time experimenting with violets and I do hope you will try some of them or that some of them will be an inspiration to you.

Enjoy!
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CUCUMBER ALMOND VIOLET GAZPACHO
Yields: 2 servings
Ingredients:
200 g blanched almonds
200 g white bread, crust removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cucumber
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp violet vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
10 ice cubes
Salt & pepper
Garnish:
100 g white grapes
50 g blanched almonds
few slivered slices of cucumber
5 fresh violet flowers (optional)
Instructions:
Mix garlic, bread, almonds, cucumber, ice cubes, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor. Start adding olive oil gradually to reach the right consistency. Taste for the seasoning, ad a bit of extra salt. Put in a fridge for a few hours. Wash the grapes and cut them and almonds in half. Slice the cucumbers very thinly. Garnish the soup with grapes, almonds, strips of cucumber and fresh violets right before serving.
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CHICKEN IN APPLE CIDER AND VIOLET VINEGAR
Yields: 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
1.5 to 1.8 kg chicken parts (preferably free-range)
Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper, to rub the chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup violet vinegar (or champagne, or rice vinegar)
1 bunch (6-8) scallions, chopped
¾ cup chicken stock
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
20 fresh violet flowers for garnish (optional)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 400F. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, rub salt and pepper in and set aside to air dry for at least 30 minutes. Pat dry chicken pieces with paper towels, rub with olive oil. Place (do not crowd) the chicken in a deep baking pan (2-3 inches) greased with 1 tablespoon of butter, skin side down and cook in the oven uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Turn once for another 10 minutes to brown the chicken on all sides.  Add garlic, return to the oven for 5-7 minutes. Gradually add vinegar mix and scallions and return to the oven uncovered for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 350F, cover with aluminum foil and finish roasting in the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and to your taste. Remove the chicken and transfer to warmed platter. Collect the cooking juices, bring them to boil and simmer in a small saucepan to reduce by 1/3. Add remaining butter and adjust the seasoning adding salt, pepper and parsley. Pour over the chicken. Garnish with fresh violets (if available). Serve with roasted or steamed veggies of your choice, a green salad and crusty bread.

Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal

Another soup with shrimp bursting with flavours and textures:  a mix of elements from Southern bouillabaisse and Northern chowder … How’s that for eclectic?

It might look like an elaborate dish but the process of preparation is simple and straightforward and  you can have a great dinner ready in a flash. I love the background Provencal taste and versatility of this soup: you can replace the ingredients almost as you please. Make it vegetarian by swapping fish & shrimp for green beans, pasta and pistou; stock for vegetarian and, voilà, a take on Ina Garten’s Provencal Vegetable Soup. Or, if you have a variety of small fresh fish and some mussels – skip the potatoes and carrots and bring the assorted fish and seafood in, add some zesty roux and you gotcha – home-made bouillabaisse…

Although this soup is featuring fish and crustaceans prominently, the real star of it is a small fennel bulb and/or crushed fennel seeds. Yep, that is the ingredient that delivers a unique taste of Provence in combination with saffron, garlic, tomatoes, wine and stock. Not to mention how famously well it goes with fish, potatoes and olives.  Anise is another name used for fennel, the smell and flavor of which many find difficult to warm to, but if you are already a fan of bouillabaissethis should not be an issue.  I noticed long time ago that sometimes those who like fennel don’t like dill and vice versa (kind of Southern vs Northern taste), but hopefully the combination of both in this dish will bring more converts from both sides.
This soup is seriously packed with good-for-you stuff, but first a few more words about fennel. In addition to the dramatic list of its health benefits of this herb, it is considered to be one of the 9 sacred herbs of Anglo-Saxons. And here are some few curious historical facts about this mysterious plant (you might or might not know about):
– In Ancient Greece, the word marathon meant ‘’place of fennel’. The battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. which happened in a plain with fennel was named after it. Consequently, the name of long-distance endurance race, the ‘’marathon’’, comes from the legend of those times when a Greek runner who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He ran the whole distance non-stop, and collapsed from exhaustion upon reaching the destination and proclaiming ‘’We have won!’’

–  According to the Greek myth, the fire was stolen from the gods by Prometheus, who hid it in a hollow fennel stalk (and paid a big price for that as we know).
– The ancient Romans believed that chewing fennel controls the obesity.
– In Medieval times fennel was put in the keyholes to keep out ghosts and spirits, particularly on Midsummer’s Eve when evil spirits were thought to roam freely as the sun turned southwards.
Fennel has been used with preparing fish since long time ago. Nicholas Culpepper, English botanist and physician of the mid 1600s wrote that fennel ‘’consumes that phlegmatic humour, which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason for its benefit this way is because it is an herb of Mercury and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces.’’
The Ancient Romans, Chinese and Hindus used fennel as an antidote to poisons. According to Culpepper, fennel was an effective antidote for poisonous mushrooms and snake bites and was used as a treatment for the bites of rabid dogs.
Back to our soup. Here are some useful tips on this wonderful and hearty concoction.
Selecting fish & shrimp: I used salmon fillets and peeled Nordic shrimp this time and it worked very well. Most of the time, however, I find salmon a bit boring and use white, firm cold water fish, such as, grouper, haddock or cod.  As for the shrimp, please feel free to use the crustacean of your choice.
Giving your soup a heft: I am not a big fan of flour or starch thickening, so when I wish to make my soup heavier, I just add a few tablespoons of corn meal (which is neutral and gluten free) 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
Step No. 1: boiling potatoes and carrots separately will help them to cook faster than when they are in the acidic environment. Step No. 2: when sautéing veggies, let them sit in the frying pan a little bit before stirring to allow a bit of caramelizing, don’t just jump on stirring all the time.  Add a bit of water or wine if your veggies stick to the skillet. Step No.3: While it’s good to have a tasty home-made broth added to it, you will still have a very palatable result without it – just replace the stock with boiled water.
Killer App: If you don’t have any fresh fennel, use some crashed fennel seeds for that Southern kick and make a cultural substitution, i.e. celery instead of fennel bulb.

Optionally, add black or green olives and/or capers into the plates when ladling soup in for an extra Mediterranean kick.  Enjoy!
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Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal
Ingredients:
2 cups of water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small carrot, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fennel seeds crushed (optional)
½ tsp chili flakes
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white part only, julienned
1 small fennel bulb (or 2 celery stalks), fronds removed, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14 oz) tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine (or 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons fresh dill (or parsley), chopped
½ lb salmon (grouper, haddock, or other white firm fish) fillet
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
 4 cups fish (or chicken) stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Fresh dill, chopped for garnish
Instructions:
In a large pot, add potatoes, carrots and bay leaves; cover with 2 cups of water, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Set aside.
In the meantime, cut the fish into small cubes and put aside along with shrimps.
Heat the olive oil, butter, chili flakes and fennel seeds in the skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion, leek, fennel and garlic and sauté over the medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the veggies softened. Add tomatoes and sauté for another 2 minutes until they begin to break down. Add wine, increase to high heat and stir for 2 minutes. Add fish and shrimp* and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add stock, orange zest and bring to boil. Incorporate with cooked potatoes and carrots. Bring to boil, skim the foam (if any) and simmer stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Verify the seasoning. Ladle the soup into plates and serve immediately with lemon wedges and crusted bread on the side. 
*If shrimp is already cooked, add it to the soup 2 minutes before the end.