Last summer Condé Nast Traveler sent us to Gascony France to cover a food intensive story for their July 2013 food issue. I wanted to share a few of the photos we took for them. You can see a more extensive story at Condé Nast Traveler.com, both in the magazine and on the tablet. This story was dream to cover. We roamed the countryside with expatriate Kate Hill and her sisterStephanie as our guides while they showed us an insiders view to Gascony. We photographed the butcher, the baker and the Armagnac maker and needless to say we ate and drank like kings.
This cold weather and early snow calls for a little something special with the afternoon PG Tips. I have been hoarding Maggie’s beautiful heirloom apples but yesterday's weather prompted me to finally use them.
I was recently in Southwestern France for work and was inspired by the small town farmers markets. It is fairly easy to find a market there on any given day. My favorite was a biodynamic market that sold organic fruit, vegetables and grains. Whenever we are traveling for work, I make it a mission to seek out these little markets. You never know what you will find. I am always on the look out for local specialties like honey and sea salt or liquor to take back home. At one of the markets in France there was a woman selling a very simple French apple cake. It was a plain and unassuming cake that tasted of butter and apples and not a trace of cinnamon which I find to be highly overused where apples are concerned. The weekend before the storm I ventured down to New Amsterdam Market. The wind was wild and the rain was just settling in, but faithful vendors were there nonetheless. Maggie of Flying Fox had the last of the season's apples along with some beautiful medlars and quince.
I made one substitution; instead of rum I used armagnac that I picked up in France.
This is a perfect cake for an afternoon tea or with a morning espresso. Come to think of it, it is just plain perfect anytime.
Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake
Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.
3/4 cup (110g) flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (a mix of varieties)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum (I substituted armagnac)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.
2. Heavily butter an 8- or 9-inch (20-23cm) springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Peel and core the apples, then dice them into 1-inch (3cm) pieces. ( use a mix of kinds. I used a mix of hierlooms)
5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy then whisk in the sugar, then rum and vanilla. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then gently stir in half of the melted butter
6. Stir in the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the butter.
7. Fold in the apple cubes until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape them into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top a little with a spatula.
8. Bake the cake for 50 minute to 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and carefully remove the sides of the cake pan, making sure no apples are stuck to it.
Serving: Serve wedges of the cake just by itself, or with crème fraîche.
Storage: The cake will keep for up to three days covered. Since the top is very moist, it’s best to store it under a cake dome or overturned bowl.
Black Oxford, Old Maids Winter, D'arcy Spice and Hidden Rose... just a few of Maggie's beautiful hierlooms from The New Amsterdam Market.
Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. It was a nice one, kind of quiet. I love cooking at my Dad’s because he has a plethora of beautiful things that inspire chopping, mincing, stuffing and eating. Everywhere I turn there are beautiful eclectic collections of dishes and bowls and strange and unusual objects. An antique taxidermy falcon lives next to a wooden swan and a bowl full of misshapen eggs. He is antique dealer and like me with my honey, a bit of a hoarder. I know it is not nice to covet, but covet I did for many years his beautiful French Sabatier knives. I remember when he bought them. It was the late 1970’s and they were very fancy as far as knives go. Over the years after much use they have come to be replaced by newer and shiner non-carbon steel knives, smaller knives, but they always remained in their place. So this weekend when he gave them to me I nearly fainted, as I never imagine him parting with them. I suddenly feel very grown up.
One of the greatest things about my father is that he simply indulges whatever current object obsession I might have and right now I have a bit of a knife one. He has seen many obsessions come and go. As an antique dealer and a purist, he has of course raised an eyebrow at some of my choices over the years, which I was always able to defend with “It’s a prop. I can use it in a photograph.” This past weekend I went in search of copper pots. I always find it is best to have one thing in mind when looking.
In New Hampshire a giant copper pot suitable for the kitchen in Oliver Twist suddenly appeared in the junkiest of shops. I justified my need for this giant cauldron by telling my father “everyone needs a big stockpot and just think... if we had had it yesterday we could have made the turkey soup in it and the patina is SO nice!”
He took the pot from me, and did not tell me I was insane. Instead, he walked to the counter and battled the antique maiden and got that pot for a price lower than I could ever imagine and it was awesome.
Lost in Paris. Woke up this morning at Rue Martel in the shuttered dark room, left virtually untouched after my late arrival. I fell straight into bed and didn't move all night.
This morning I opened the shutters and the light streamed in from the courtyard where marigold and geranium pots lined the ledge. Coffee was a priority. I dressed and walked up the somewhat familiar Rue de Faubourg St Denis until I came upon Chez Jeanette.
After my coffee I wandered to Jules and bought a baguette, jambon and some tomme. On the way home I spied these beautiful green plums and raw hazelnuts.
Breakfast day one:
tomme with raw hazelnuts
jambon buerre and baguette
I am somewhat of a honey hoarder. I say this to myself as I look at the many half used jars of honey in my cupboard that I have collected from all corners of the Earth.
I buy honey everywhere I travel. I have Bhutanese honey, Italian honey, French honey, Upstate New York honey, Mexican honey and now Brooklyn Honey after the city has lifted a decade old ban on beekeeping in the city.
This hording would be ok if I just consumed all the honey I purchase, but you see… I like to keep some of the more special jars just to look at because they are so beautiful!
To me honey is the ultimate gift to bring back from afar; it is the sweetest way to later remember a trip. It is available practically everywhere, you need only to open your eyes and it will find you.
I have jars of honey I have purchased simply for their sheer beauty. One of these is a small glass purchased at a famers market in the South of France. I admit to finally eating this honey, but I still have the empty jar, and the hand painted bee reminds me of that trip. Another I am particularly partial to is from France as well, and the typography and color of the honey made me swoon. It has long since separated out into two distinct and beautiful layers, and I have every intention of leaving it that way.
The most interesting thing about honey is the wide spectum of flavors and scents. Honey ranges in color from dark brown to almost black to the palest of whites and everthing in between. Some honey is dark and robust while others are the color of straw with flavors of maritime flowers and sea spray.
The flavor and color of the honey is dependent on what the bees are eating. The nectar of the flowers mixes with enzymes from the bee's saliva to create a sticky liquid that is honey. The bees then come back to the hives and deposit the liquid into the hives. The flavors come through accordingly. Honey is the perfect litmus test to the the bee's immediate surroundings be it herbascious or otherwise. Take for instance the the Red Hook honey, Bees where found to be producing red honey tinted with flavor of maraschino cherries because they were greedily drinking up the syrup from the Red Hook Brooklyn maraschino cherry plant! According to an article in The New York Times Andrew Coté, the leader of the New York City Beekeepers Association, has said
“Bees will forage from any sweet liquid in their flight path for up to three miles,” Mr. Coté said. While he has not yet visited the factory, he said that the bees might be drinking from its runoff, and that solving the problem “could be as easy as putting up some screens, or providing a closer source of sweet nectar.”
The Brooklyn beekeepers were somewhat dissapointed to find that thier bees had produced a cloying dye riddled substance, but this just goes to show you how honey is the perfect example of surrounding environments. Hopefully the problem has been solved!
You can imagine that bees that frequent such a factory in Brooklyn will produce vastly different tasting honey than bees that live in sunlit pine forests of Italy or in the wide open wild flowered fields of Southern France or the windswept hills of Sardinia.
Bees are the ultimate mixologists. Local honey flavors can range from any of the following: sea, pine, chestnut, sunflower, truffle, forest, blackberry, mint, orange blossom, clover, eucalyptus, cardoon, millefiori, corbezzolo, and in the case of the Brooklyn bees... maraschino. These are only a few of the local flavors you might find if you choose to branch out beyond the good old honey bear.
For me, honey is a vehicle or the starting point for inspiration when it comes to cooking. I am usually first inspired by the flavor of honey, then comes the food. You can't go wrong with a combination of fresh ricotta and honey.
A couple years ago I found the recipe below in Gourmet, and I have been making it ever since! It really couldn't be easier.
I always start with this simple recipe. This ricotta is delicious in fresh pasta or on a crostini, it is really good paired with toasted semolina raisin bread or fresh rhubarb compote. be inspired and go crazy!
below I made fresh ricotta crostiini with millefiore (a thousand flowers) honey and thyme and coffee with chestnut honey. My friend Paola always starts her day with honey in her coffee.
All of the gorgeous handmade ceramics used in this shoot are from the very talented michele michael of elephant ceramics. Food inspires me but so do vessels...but that is another story altogether. Look for her very coveted sales on line and follow her blog at http://elephantceramics.blogspot.com/, be quick because she sells out fast!
Richard Ferretti's fresh riccotta from Gourmet 2006.
- 2 quarts whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Line a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.
Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days
Crostini with fresh ricotta, honey thyme and sea salt
lightly toast some of your favorite rustic bread
spread some fresh homemade ricotta on top
drizzle with your favorite honey
add a little herb, in this case lemon thyme
and finish with a pinch of grey sea salt.
If you read Italian pick up Dizionario Dei Mieli Nomadi from Liccu Manias, the leading authority on honey in Italy! I am definitely visiting his farm next time I am in Sardinia.