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Entries in autumn (10)


Of feast and family


Here we are, under two-weeks-and-counting until Thanksgiving; my bar none favourite holiday of the year. There's a laundry list of things to do between that day and this, but I've got one thing settled - a secret to stash away in case of emergency on those busy days - and it goes like this: honey and toasted nutmeg ice cream.

It was in between plans of roasts and butter rolls that I started to consider a spiced ice cream. Not for the main event, as there's tradition firmly in place for that - intended instead as a ramp up to those times of feast and family. The theory was a sound one, as, in practice, having a pint of frozen ambrosial goodness sets a humming tone of anticipation for what's to follow.

I like it alone, and I'd like it with an apple cake or a slice of pumpkin pie. In the case of the latter I think the two custards, one frozen and one, well, pie - similarly smooth but contrasting in temperature and heft - would be particularly nice on a shared plate. Or if, say, this ice cream was employed to simultaneously spark the warmth and soothe the sour of that plum crumble I talked about before, that would work too.


Having said that, I don't know if I'd want it in mounded servings. A smallish scoop suits me fine, and a smallish spoon too. There's a reason behind this uncharacteristic moderation; despite the short list of ingredients, this ice cream's taste develops slowly on the palate. It meanders. It slips along on a base of cream, and the combination of honey and nutmeg is carried to a station greater than its beginning.

And on that note, there was a point as I whisked eggs and the cream steeped, that the combined scents of the two mixtures on the counter reminded me, worryingly, of eggnog. Our relationship is tempestuous, that between the Nog and me. It starts out festive and merry but often ends in the overstepping of boundaries and things taken too far.

I'm not ready to rekindle the romance; it is one best saved for the end of the year.

Lucky for me then, that when combined, there's a levelling to the egg and the spice. While the first introduction of this ice cream might be a vague suggestion of yuletide cheer, the actual impression it leaves is altogether different.

Without the boozy undertones of rum or bourbon or brandy, whatever your mix — and I'm not critisicing a boozy undertone, as I am a big fan — but without that alcoholic throatiness, the nutmeg blooms broader; with a tickling heat, yes, and also a higher, flowery, perfumed taste that is in beautiful cooperation with the honey's similar disposition.

(But don't let my particular mood stop the addition of a spirited pour into the mix.)

 So there you are, set for Thanksgiving. And October. And Wednesdays. 

nutmeg honey ice cream

Honey and toasted nutmeg ice cream
Adapted from Saveur Issue #134.

I have made this ice cream once with egg yolks alone and again with whole eggs. The batch with whole eggs had a clearer, brighter flavour of honey and spice. As one would expect, the egg yolks afforded a silkier custard, which had its own merit

In the dead of winter, in need of a cold-weather-worthy ice cream and feeling particularly blithe, I might try it with 8 egg yolks for kicks. Go with what works for you.

1 whole nutmeg
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (35%), divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup liquid honey
6 egg yolks or 4 whole eggs, see head note
1/8 teaspoon salt

Grate 2 teaspoons of nutmeg into a small skillet. Toast the ground nutmeg over medium heat until aromatic, around 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Add the rest of the (whole) nutmeg to the pot with the milk mixture and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. 

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks (or whole eggs, if using) with the sugar, honey and salt. Pouring in a thin, steady stream, whisk in the hot milk mixture into the eggs. Tansfer the mixture back to the pan and cook, stirring, until thickened, 8-10 minutes. Pour custard through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean bowl. Stir in the remaining 1 cup heavy cream and toasted nutmeg; cover custard lightly and chill. 

Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's direction then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until set.

Makes 1 quart.



  • The type of honey used will greatly impact the ice cream's flavour. A wildflower honey will be subtle and almost fresh, with the cream coming through, while a more robust buckwheat will be far more prominent.



Robust everydayness

mushrooms, and there's toast.

Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast! Or, as pictured, mushrooms and toast.

So that didn't work. Nothing I do, no matter how I say it, can make mushrooms on toast sound as though they are all that exciting. But boy, am I excited about them. In fact, they've been all I want to eat these days.

And so, after a too long absence that has me eager to bring you trays of chocolates and sweets, of cakes miles high and swathed in seven-minute frosting, in my way of saying I'm glad to see you, I'm here instead with a plate full of everydayness. But robust everdayness - toasted bread and a tumble of mushrooms, with their tawny edges tanned and glistening.

Though simple, they are far from plain and even farther from boring. From Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver, the mushrooms are meaty, substantial and all-around good stuff. 

I made them the first time to share for a November lunch. The next day, I had them again for a solitary late-morning breakfast, free in my singularity to shamelessly drag my toast across the skillet in which the mushrooms had cooked, lest I miss an ounce of their liquor that was left behind. 

That first time we ate them as is, piled on slices of grilled bread, and for the second time I perched a poached egg just so. Another time there were irregular chunks of creamy buffalo mozzarella cozied up on the plate.

Never you mind all of that though, to begin I think it best to go with this dish in its purest - straight up, nothing to get in the way of what we have going on here.

What that exactly is, is mushrooms with attitude. The first succulent bite had me sit up straighter and pull my chair an inch closer to the table.

november lunches

Where I think the draw lies in this dish is in how the the mushrooms are cooked - everything's added in stages to gain the greatest advantage of their qualities. Into a pour of olive oil alone goes the mushrooms, then the garlic, chili and thyme. As they cook, their moisture is released, the aromatics open up and perfume the steam as it puffs from the pan. The liquid condenses soon enough and then it's time to feed in a knob or two of butter, which glosses all, adding richness and roundness. A few drops of lemon, then the transformative ingredient - water - to end. Yes, water.

It's the lynchpin to this whole business of mushrooms on toast, I'm telling you.

That splash of water bubbles up, picking up all the stickiness around the skillet and turning into a surprisingly creamy, absolutely rich gravy. You'll fight for your share. Pick a craggy bread with enough bumps and pockets to catch that sauce and collect it into luscious pools. That's the best way to go.

Since we're chums and catching up, I'll mention that today's toast, the one I'm crummy with right now, is with aged cheddar and chili pepper jam. That one we'll save for another chat. For now, get on those mushrooms.


Jamie Oliver's Ultimate Mushroom Brushchetta

From the book Jamie at Home (Hyperion, 2008).

Recipe here.



Exceedingly appealing

I had not intended this humble walnut cake to be a topic of discussion. It was the fulfillment of a request of something simple to end a mid-week lunch ten whole days ago. No bells or whistles or sugarplum fairies required. No ballyhoo to be had, nothing to talk about here.

And good gracious, it was yet another walnut recipe. And not only that, it also represents not one, but another two recipes from Gourmet magazine, the apparent alpha and omega of my kitchen exploits. I assumed that my fancy, and our conversation, would move on to other things.

Silly, silly me. Despite the days that have passed the charm of that uncomplicated cake is still peerless in my estimation.

The preparation was as simple as can be. It all came together in a food processor, where toasted walnuts are left with butter and sugar to whir on their own for a while. Once smooth, they become what I can only imagine akin to what peanut butter wants to be when it grows up - a smooth blend of butter and nuts, intensely flavoured and sharply aromatic. Next it's just eggs, flour, baking soda and salt, and it's done, off to the oven.

What emerges is a cake that's fairly thin and mostly flat, with the gentlest of swells at its middle. Medium brown with darker flecks throughout, it is resolute in its plainness and yet exceedingly appealing. For the sake of fuss I improvised a frosting of one part cream cheese to equal parts soft, unripened goats cheese and butter, with enough icing sugar to sweeten and a splash of vanilla to round out the flavour. But the gilding was hardly necessary; the cake itself was memorable, moist with a tender, springy crumb.

I offered an Apple-Fig Compote at its side, fruity and jammy and tart to counter the resonant nuttiness of the cake. The combination was gorgeous.

So gorgeous in fact, I'll probably still be talking about 10 days from now. Maybe more.

Walnut Cake with Apple-Fig Compote

Walnut Cake (omit the topping)
Apple-Fig Compote (see note below)

• For the compote, I omitted the lemon juice and zest, and used maple syrup in place of the sugar. I popped a 1x1/4-inch piece of peeled ginger into the pot while simmering the fruit, removing it before cooling.


A swift unencumbered arc

Every year, without fail, there is a certain door in our house that becomes stuck. It's only one door, and it's not irrevocably jammed, only enough to make its presence known. And not for all that long, only a week or two tops, when the combination of heat and humidity comes together in such a way that either the floor heaves or the door swells - we're not exactly sure which.

That particular circumstance occurred in the middle of September this time around, when we had cool mornings but summery afternoons. That week the socks we put on with a shiver before breakfast were discarded with a huff by noon.

Said door got stuck halfway between open and closed, leaving you with the option to either give it a solid hip-check into obedience or turn your body such that you can scoot your way through. Being resistant when it comes to confrontation, I choose the latter approach - meaning that for the last few days I have found myself ambling sideways through the front hall with embarssing regularity.

This morning the door swung open freely, in a swift unencumbered arc. October was a month we'd face head on. Howdy to you. And you too, Autumn.

We had our first dalliance with comely autumn and all of its trappings a few days earlier; last Saturday we went slightly mad with autumnal cliché. There were orchards with the first leaves scattered between rows, and apple picking and cider too. And then an Apple Almond Cake followed soon after. But it was only yesterday that I faced the season squarely.

I made soup. And since the colour will soon be scarce around here I made a soup that was patently green.

Our big, enameled cast iron pot took its place on the stove, squat and welcoming. Zucchini and onions into a bath of olive oil and butter, shallots and garlic arriving at the last minute. The rest is pretty much a call of everybody into the pool, when broccoli joins the party and bubbles away until tender. A leafy tumble of spinach wilts into the soft vegetables, and then its all buzzed until smooth. With austerity most certainly against my nature, a spiky dollop of crème fraîche blended with horseradish was the final flourish.

And if you were to say, smear some of that crème fraîche upon some golden toast soldiers for dipping, I would not bat a lash. In fact, I might just think that you're exactly my kind of person.

Early Fall Soup of Zucchini and Broccoli with Horseradish Crème Fraîche
With some inspiration from Molly. The cream is a variation on this mayonnaise, and it is its sinus-clearing intensity that acts as a foil for the sweet subtlety of the soup. The broccoli should be cut into smallish chunks so that the vegetables only take the briefest amount of time to cook, thereby preserving as much of their colour as possible.

Ingredients for soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound zucchini, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound broccoli, stems and crowns, cut into chunks
4-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Rind from a piece of Parmesan cheese, mine was about 3x2 inches
2 cups baby spinach, lightly packed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the horseradish crème fraîche
1 cup crème fraîche
1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot melt the butter into the olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and onion and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender but without colour, around 10 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir the broccoli through the other vegetables.

Pour in around 4 to 4 1/2 cups of stock, just enough to submerge the vegetables. Tuck in the Parmesan rind. Raise the heat to bring to the boil then reduce to maintain a simmer, leaving partially covered to cook for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender.

Meanwhile, stir together the ingredients for the horseradish crème fraîche in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Remove the Parmesan rind. Stir in the spinach and once it's wilted, purée the soup with an immersion blender, adding some of the reserved stock if necessary to achieve your preferred consistency. Check for seasoning and serve with crème fraîche alongside.

Serves 6-8.


• Although I have not included specifics, I try to layer flavours here, seasoning with salt and pepper throughout the cooking process (while sautéeing the vegetables, upon adding the stock, and then to finish). It is hard to pinpoint exact amounts, but taste often and season as you go. A light touch is best; you can always add more at the end.


Happenstance: day six

Monday mid-morning; slightly toasted.

Beautiful moments, captured at RedRobinLand (a favourite set).