Category Archives: ice cream and sorbet

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…

‘Mighty Aphrodite’ Lemon Ginger Mint Cucumber Granita
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
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.

Candied Citrus Peel: Versatile Cooking Ingredient

One of my grandma’s signature preserves was a gooseberry jam with orange peel – a super delicious treat with a strong citrus identity you can never forget. ‘’Can we use orange peel with anything else?’’, I used to ask my mother repeatedly when a kid and she would say: ‘’I’m not sure, but it makes a good still life subject’’… My mother, folks… She was an artist and a kind of a cook who would think that an orangette is made of an apple slice soaked in Grand Marnier. However, her mantra was stuck in the back of my head; for years I’ve been buying a scentless commercial mixed peel the color of a landfill waste for my baking needs like zombie. Until one day I actually read the label, discovered that the major ingredient was not even a citrus peel but rutabaga + a bunch of chemicals… I found myself peeling oranges and slicing lemons in candied-citrus-peel frenzy. I was stunned how easy and inexpensive the method of making a candied peel was. Stupefied and aghast, I was looking at the results of my own fresh and zesty mixed peel wondering what took me so long to discover this treasure trick to do about the citrus waste.
Whoever made this discovery was a genius. For all I know now, people have been using candied citrus for a long-long time. It’s truly a four-season condiment, which is also extremely versatile in its applications. Who said the candied citrus peel is only for Christmas?
Easter is around the corner with candied fruit panettone, cross buns, kulich and tsoureki. But why waiting for it if you can have it right now in your lemon drizzle, chocolate or bundt cake, Eccles cakes (coming next and the actual reason I’m writing this post), raspberry bar cookies, granolas, and so many more… Not to mention the increasing array of cocktails and simple treats where this vivid essential comes to garnish vodka martini, citrus granita or lemon peel yogurt. Heck, I am even using it tonight to garnish the citrus roast chicken with mashed potatoes for my non-fasting party (we have another snow storm outside, so a citrus granita alone would not help much).
 And, of course, the famous Parisian dessert: les orangettes!
The orange peel candied in syrup infused with peppercorns, anise and vanilla pod and dipped in dark chocolate. Va-va-voom! So art deco and so Josephine Baker dance… 
A little recycling effort and here you are with a cup of coffee and a few of these decadent morsels transcending Canadian winter boundary straight into Paris in spring, somewhere between 6ème Saint-Germain-Des-Prés and La Maison du Chocolat. 
Finally, please don’t forget about the candied orange peel it when you make your next chocolate fondue…
As usually, I am saving some of my sweet teeth for the summer when I will have gooseberries back in my garden and will be canning them into my Grandma’s humble gooseberry jam along with these little orange shape-shifters for that one and only citrus kick. 
Not every citrus peel needs to be blanched three times. Below, I am giving you three different recipes for Candied Mixed Citrus Peel, the Orangettes and Candied Meyer Lemon Peel, respectively. Here are some general tips on making a candied citrus peel a success:
         * Boiling the peel and discarding the water 3 times is the key to remove bitterness from orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit peels.
         * Adding a bit of lemon juice to boiling syrup will help to prevent crystallization.
          * You can vary the texture of your future candied peel from soft (boiling for 10 minutes) to caramelized and chewy (additional 10 minutes of boiling).
         * Recycle the remnant citrus-infused syrup in cocktails, lemonade, fresh berries coulis, yogurts, etc.
          * The candied Meyer lemon preserve requires only one pre-boil, because the Meyer lemon’s skin is not as bitter as other citrus (especially when in season).
          * If you wish to make your orangettes version as close to the Parisian version as possible, please do use peppercorns, anise and vanilla pod in the boiling syrup and let your orange peels steep in it for at least few hours upon the end of boiling. As for the chocolate, please use the darkest you can find.
Enjoy your home-candying and I hope you will find this post helpful. À bientôt!

One year ago: Homemade Chicken Stock;

2 small oranges, peeled
1 small grapefruit, peeled
1 lemon, peeled
1 lime, peeled
1 ¾   cups white sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups water for syrup, plus more for blanching
Peel citrus fruits with the peeler. Reserve the fruits for another use. Slice peels in ¼ inch pieces.  Cover citrus peels with water in a sauce pan, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and repeat blanching for two more times to remove the citrus peel bitterness. Drain citrus peel and set aside.  Combine sugar and 2 cups of water in a sauce pan, bring to boil and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Add lemon juice. Stir in citrus peel and simmer for 1 hour. Let cool. Drain. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the peel pieces to dry.  Let dry for 20-24 hours. Store in airtight container. Will keep on the shelf for about a week and for about a month in the fridge. Freezes well for longer shelf life.
6-7 oranges peeled
2 cups water + more for blanching
1 ½ cups white sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
5 peppercorns
1 piece star anise
1 small vanilla pod, pulp and bean
Cut oranges into quarters, peel and remove the pulp and save for another use. Slice the peel into thin strips. Remove the pith from the peels using paring knife.  Cover the peels with water in a sauce pan, bring to boil, simmer for 5 minutes, drain and put into an ice cold bath. Repeat blanching two more times. Place all the remaining ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add the thrice blanched peel and bring to boil and simmer for about an hour on a very low heat without the lid. Remove from heat and allow the mix to cool overnight steeping peels in the syrup. Next day, drain the peels, distribute on a cooling rack and let dry for at least 6-7 hours. Store in the airtight container.
To coat in chocolate, melt 100g of the dark bitter-sweet chocolate in bain-marie and using tongs or tweezers dip each peel, coating fully or partially and leave to set on a baking sheet.
3 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced
2 cups white sugar
2 cups water
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup sugar for sprinkling
Place sliced Meyer lemons in a saucepan and cover with 1 cup of water. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Combine sugar and 1 cup of water, bring to boil and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Add lemon juice. Stir in sliced lemon and simmer for 45 minutes stirring from time to time. Let cool. Drain. Distribute on wire rack, sprinkle with sugar and let dry for 4-5 hours. Store in airtight container on the shelf for one week, or in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Healthy Summer Scoop: Banana ”Ice Cream”

The temperatures have been soaring sky-high in the last few weeks, which turns summer basking into a doubtful pleasure of a never-ending smog. And the heat goes on and on. The time when everyone is looking for shade and a good scoop of an ice cream.

As much as I love Coaticook or Lactantia commercial brands, an idea of a healthy simple home made banana ”ice cream” was tempting me since I discovered the recipe. So I made it: there is no dairy or sugar in it; it’s gluten free, relatively low in calories, and, super-refreshing on oppressively hot and humid summer day. I promised to a friend of mine, who tried and liked it and wanted me to share the recipe with her, that I will post it this week. So here you are, my dear.

Slice and freeze some bananas; blend them with almond milk, some maple syrup and vanilla extract – and it’s ready to serve. Top with some roasted sweet-and-salty slivered almonds. Voila, almost a sin-free dessert with some very positive nutritional value, which you can make in a few minutes!
Ideal when served while you laze around in the garden or the pool, but also perfectly refreshing when you come back home on one of these sweltering days.
Yields about 1 pint
4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted almonds
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons good-quality maple syrup, divided
A pinch of coarse sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Freeze the banana slices in a single layer on a tray or plate lined with parchment or wax paper. Once the slices are frozen, use them immediately or keep frozen in a zip-top plastic bag or airtight container for up to a month.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the almonds with 2 teaspoons of the maple syrup and the pinch of salt and set the mixture aside.
Combine the frozen banana slices, the almond milk, the remaining 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and the vanilla extract in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is the texture of soft-serve ice cream, scraping down the sides as necessary. Don’t worry if the mixture is not totally smooth at first – once the bananas start to break down and defrost in the food processor, they’ll give in and the ”ice cream” will take shape quickly.
Spoon the banana ”ice cream” into bowls immediately and sprinkle with a bit of almond mixture.

Recipe from: ”It’s All Good” by Gwyneth Paltrow with Julia Turschen, Grand Central Life & Style Hachette Book Group, April 2013.