Written for Edible Santa Barbara - Winter 2011



In 1520, as Ferdinand Magellan struggled to find the passage around South America, his crews slowly perished from scurvy. 208 souls were lost, out of 230, mostly to this disease. Twenty years earlier as Vasco de Gama opened up the spice routes to India, sixty percent of his crew also died from scurvy and yet herbal and dietary cures had been known for millennia. As Jonathan Lamb describes in his book ‘Preserving the Self in the South Seas 1680-1840’, more than two million sailors lost their lives to this debilitating illness between 1500-1800 AD. How ironic is it then, that as they opened up trade routes and explored new territories to the west, they carried within their ships holds the very substance that could cure them: The saplings of lemons, limes and oranges.

It was not until 1747, when James Lind, a Scottish physician in the service of the Royal Navy, proved that scurvy could be treated with daily doses of citrus fruit. The vitamin C was the antidote to the disease. Why it took the Navy another hundred plus years to adopt this regimen is somewhat mysterious, but so essential to survival at sea, it became part of English ordinances on all trade and war vessels. British ships were commonly known as ‘limejuicers’ and their sailors ‘Limeys,’ a nickname for all British people that remains to this day.

Although the precise origin of lemons remains unknown, there is evidence to suggest that they initially grew in India and parts of South-East Asia. Indeed India is the world’s largest grower of lemons and limes.

They were introduced to Europe by the Arabs and by the fourth century were farmed in Northern Africa, Sicily and Spain. Lemons became widespread in Medieval Europe but were often used as an ornamental plant, rather than a fruit. It was only as trades routes were developed that the culinary uses of the fruit that originated in India (in the form of pickles and condiments) and North Africa (in the form of preserved fruit) made their way into the cuisines of France, England and Spain.

From there they migrated westward and were introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1493 who brought them, on his second sea voyage, to Haiti. Subsequent Spanish conquests throughout those territories furthered the spread of the fruit, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Spanish missionaries on the Californian coast in 1757, that lemons and oranges were established here. Nearly one hundred years later as California’s population grew with the advent of the Gold Rush so too did the cultivation of the citrus groves. California is now the largest producer of America’s lemon industry with more than fifty percent of the crop growing in Ventura County.

As the lemon migrated westward, so too have I. My travels and upbringing I realize, were oddly enough, flavored with lemons. One of my earliest childhood memories is that of standing in a very small, old and quaint sweet shop. Large bottles, glass containers that looked like apothecary jars and vast bowls were all lined up on wooden shelves and in ornate glass cases. They held jewel-toned sweets of every possible description and color. Sherberts, berwick cockles, barley sugar and Liquorice Allsorts lay in tempting mounds, lollipops in all shapes and sizes lined the tops of the cases but best of all were the lemon bonbons. Covered in confections sugar, these pale golden orbs - the size of a small grape – were deceptive. You’d pop one in your mouth and once past the sugar that powdered your lips, an intense lemon flavored sweet would slowly dissolve in your mouth. Your lips would pucker, you’d squeeze your eyes shut and suck in the sides of your cheeks. It was intense and fantastic all at once.

Lemons have been imprinted on my taste buds ever since. My childhood in London it seemed was filled with lemon flavored dishes; a luscious lemon chicken in our favorite Chinese restaurant; an unbelievably hot lemon relish in the local Indian restaurant that brought tears to your eyes, but somehow always left you wanting more; a delicately flavored Avgolemono soup from the Greek delicatessen around the corner and ethereal lemon tarts that came from my favorite French patisserie.

These were classics, but it was only as I arrived in California that I really discovered the pleasures and versatility of cooking with lemons, influenced by the multi-ethnic cuisines that are part of the states immigrant tapestry.  It was here that I first tasted Meyer lemons. They were a revelation. Their thin, delicate skin and sweeter flavor made them perfect for salads, and vinaigrettes made with these lemons had a distinctive flavor. Being able to eat the skin - akin to the preserved lemons of Morocco - they transformed dishes that I had previously made with regular lemons. The halibut recipe below is such a dish.

Lemons are a natural flavor enhancer. They are also filled with natural pectin making them indispensable in making preserves and act as the curing agent in ceviche, gravlax and other fish preparations. I think I have been on a lemon craze ever since. Everywhere I turned there were lemon and orange trees. People had citrus fruit falling all over their gardens. Whereas I grew up observing citrus trees confined to the, albeit beautiful surroundings of an orangery, here they were en masse on street corners literally raining fruit on the pavement. It’s hard to describe how fabulous that was to someone who lived in a climate where the temperature was rarely above 50 degrees for six months of the year. It was akin to having permanent sunshine in your kitchen.

I started making marmalade year round. Myriad varieties; classic tart orange, but also lemon-orange or four citrus which included limes and then I discovered blood-oranges. I remember having blood-orange juice in Italy when I was small, but again it wasn’t until I lived in Southern California that they became regular fixtures in my farmer’s market basket. Orange salads using this variety are visually dramatic and have an added floral note. Their sensational purple-orange color comes from anthocyanins which are enhanced by the cool nights and warm days that are a feature of our winter Mediterranean climate. They are also rich in antioxidants and vitamin C.  There are three main varieties, Moro, Sanguinello and Tarroco. The latter is the sweetest variety. All three can be found in Southern California during their November to May season.

It always seemed odd to me that what is thought of as the ubiquitous summer fruit is in fact in season during winter. The great pleasure however is that even on the coldest, wettest winter day you can have an invigorating dash of sunshine in the form of a Meyer lemon or a blood-orange. Both will enliven your food and bring a certain zest to the season.

 

WINTER CITRUS SALAD

Winter is often seen, in food terms, as a time for warm hearty dishes and yet it is prime time for lots of citrus fruit, Meyer lemons and blood oranges in particular. Inspired by the classic orange and red onion salad of Spain and the North African tradition of preserved lemons, this salad is a nod to both. Meyer lemons which are so delicately skinned lend themselves marvelously to this dish.

Serves 8 people

4 oranges – peeled and thinly sliced

4 blood oranges – peeled and thinly sliced

1 Meyer lemon – very thinly sliced with the skin on

¼ cup olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

1 teaspoon orange flower water

1 pinch cumin

1 pinch sumac

1 pinch cinnamon

Coarse sea salt

Black pepper

2 Tablespoons chives – finely chopped

2 Tablespoons cilantro leaves – left whole

  1. Place the sliced oranges, blood oranges and Meyer lemons on a platter and arrange them in an appealing pattern.
  2. In a separate bowl mix together all the remaining ingredients except for the cilantro and chives. Whisk the mixture together well to form an emulsion.
  3. Pour the vinaigrette over the oranges and then dot with the chives and cilantro.

PARCHMENT BAKED HALIBUT WITH MEYER LEMONS AND SHALLOTS

Serves 8 people

4 Meyer lemons – thinly sliced

Olive oil

Coarse sea salt

8-10 large shallots – peeled and thinly sliced

4-5 sprigs lemon thyme

2 ½ lbs. halibut – cut into eight equal parts

  1. Pre heat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Place the lemons onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt. Bake for 20 minutes.
  3. Pour a little olive oil into a heavy-bottomed pan placed over medium heat. Add in the shallot slices and lemon thyme and cook until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes.
  4. Place the one eighths of the shallots onto a separate 12 x 10 inch piece of parchment paper. Place one of the halibut slices on top of the shallots and then cover the surface of the fish with some of the baked lemon slices. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. Fold the parchment over the fish and seal the parchment. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Place the eight packages on to a baking sheet.
  5. Bake the fish for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven, taking care when you open the parchment as this will release some steam. Serve with the juices from the parchment package.

This is excellent served with sautéed bok choy, spinach or some steamed green beans.

LEMON TART

[From A Menu For All Seasons: Spring, New Edition – reproduced with permissions Media 27 Editions, Publisher]

Serves 8-10 people

For the dough:
(enough to line a 10” round tart pan (with a little left over) or to make 2 rectangular tarts)

7 oz flour (1 1/3 cups)

4 oz almond meal (3/4 cup)

5 oz unsalted butter (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons

1 teaspoon olive oil                                                                                                             

1 egg

1 Tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

1 Tablespoon pine nuts

Zest of 1 lemon

Pinch of coarse sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until just combined. Remove the dough from the bowl and place onto a large piece of seran wrap and flatten out a little – the dough will be slightly sticky. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Lightly flour a clean work surface. Remove the dough from the fridge and place in in the center of the work surface. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, gently roll out the dough so that it is ¼ inch thick. Carefully transfer the dough to a pre-buttered tart pan. It can be any shape you like as long as the tart pan has a removable bottom. Trim the edges of the dough with a sharp knife and then prick the dough with the tines of a fork. Cover the dough with some parchment paper and place pie weights or some dried beans on top to prevent the dough from rising whilst baking. Bake the tart in the oven for 10 minutes, remove the parchment and weights and bake for 5 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool.

For the filling:

Grated zest and juice of 4 lemons
4 whole eggs (beaten together in a small bowl)

3 egg yolks (beaten together in a small bowl)

6 oz sugar (3/ 4 cup plus 1 tablespoon)

3 oz butter- melted (3/ 4 stick)

  1. Place the lemon juice and zests in a large bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat up the lemon juice until warm to the touch.
  2. Whisk in the whole eggs and then the egg yolks, being careful not to let the mixture boil as this will cause the eggs to curdle. Add in the sugar and melted butter, stirring until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. This will take a little time, so be patient and do not turn the heat up.
  3. Pour the lemon mixture into the partially baked tart and cook a further 7-8 minutes or until the tart dough is golden brown. The lemon curd should not move if you jiggle the pan. Let the tart cool to room temperature before serving.
Written for Edible Santa Barbara - Autumn 2011



“What are we having for dinner Mum?” I get asked this question on a daily basis and I often answer, “I’ll let you know when I get back from the market”. I grew up shopping for food at the local markets on a daily basis and the habit has stayed with me. I feel inspired as I walk through rows of fragrant herbs, gorgeous vegetables, surrounded by the flowers and plants of the current season.

Autumn brings with it a cascade of wild mushrooms, piled higgledy-piggledy in great mounds on the farmers table crying out for a risotto filled with sautéed tubers; bulbous, sunset-hued squash sit plump and fat in hessian covered baskets asking to be transformed into fragrant soups; the arrival of autumnal fruits, flecked pears, crunchy apples with enticing names such as Honey Crisp beg to be transformed into pies and buttery crumbles and pomegranates bursting with luscious ruby red seeds are perfect for livening up a salad. The markets are filled with possibilities.

Sometimes coming across a special ingredient will trigger a culinary flashback. The same way an aroma will remind you of a place, a perfume of a person, so too can a dish transport you to a dining room half way around the world. Coming across farm-raised rabbit reminded me of a luscious dish my Grandmother Genevieve used to make. ‘Lapin a la Moutarde’. It was a crème fraiche, mustard sauce laden masterpiece. I would pray she would make it each I time I was lucky enough to visit her. My uncle and I once battled over who would clear the platter away to the kitchen, containing the last of this succulent sauce, made even more delicious when you could mop it up surreptitiously with a piece of baguette in the kitchen. We got caught of course, my grandmother walked in on us just as we were about to pop that perfect morsel of fresh bread, dripping with this unctuous crème in our mouths. She raised a disapproving eyebrow at me, ‘Pascale!’ but it was that good.

That entire scene flashed through my mind as I stood in front of Marcie Jimenez’s stand. At Jimenez Family ‘beyond organic’ farms, located in Santa Ynez on 35 acres, they have pasture fed lamb, farm-raised pigs, rabbits and goats, in addition to wide range of fruits and vegetables. Jumping at the chance to re-create this dish, I told Marcie the story as I purchased one for dinner. As it so happens she has one of her own. Stemming from a Greek-Scandinavian background, Marcie and her family often ate rabbit. Her family’s dish was Stifado: A Greek specialty, this cinnamon and spice, wine-laced rabbit stew features pearl onions bathed in a tomato sauce that cooks slowly in a stove-top Dutch oven. Her stew sounded moist and fragrant, a perfect match for the lean rabbit meat. I made a note to try her stew in the near future.

Now that I had decided on rabbit, I needed mushrooms for the sauce and meandered over to the Peacock Farms stand that always has tasty oyster mushrooms to choose from. Having picked up two baskets, and a dozen of their incredible, almost orange colored yolk eggs, which come from the farms evidently happy - free to roam under the peach trees - well-fed chickens, I spied some persimmons. I have to say that I have not in the past been a fan of this fruit. I don’t like its gelatinous texture. However I was persuaded to try one of the Fuyu variety and became an instant convert. I’ve been creating persimmon dishes ever since. They are wonderful in salads. I was intrigued by this fruit and spoke with Lynda Peacock, who along with her husband Scott, both 3rd generation farmers from Dinuba, planted persimmon trees on their farm at the insistence of their Japanese neighbor. Lynda makes cookies and breads with the ‘squishy’ Hichiya variety and mentioned that they dry very well, preserving their bright orange color.

Persimmons originated in the orient and widely cultivated for centuries in Japan and China. There are also species of American persimmon trees, that were well known to Native Americans. The name persimmon is derived phonetically from the Algonquin tribe’s term for the fruit ‘putchamin’. There are two types of fruit; astringent and non-astringent. The former can only be eaten when fully ripened, otherwise it will taste extremely bitter but the latter can be eaten when still hard.  The Fuyu persimmon is one of the non-astringent varieties.

Lynda described a salad she makes with the Fuyu variety, combining the chopped fruit with walnuts, avocados and a vinaigrette. I’ll have to try that too.

At this point my basket was almost overflowing and I had yet to plan the last course of our meal. My father’s motto is ‘always leave room for dessert’. Walking through the market I was spoiled for choice. Pears, pomegranates and citrus fruit beckon but my eyes are dawn to the myriad apples piled high at the Fair Hills Farm stand.

David Rydell and his family grow about twenty varieties of apples. Located in Paso Robles, the 35-acre organic farm benefits from the 60 degree summertime temperature swings that help concentrate the fruits flavors. Braeburns, Cameos, Fujis, Honey Crisps, Galas and Jonagolds tempt passersby. I love combining different varieties in tarts and salads. David, whose family originates from Minnesota, says he likes Baked Apples, a dish that reminds me of blustery autumnal days in London where I was born. We are a world away from the raw weather that can so frequently be dished out in England – or the Midwest -  but just reminiscing about these apple filled dishes evoke images of coming in from the cold and eating warm apple crumbles, filled with spices. The apple dish I have in mind today may not be as hearty, but those flavors will all be there.

I call my daughter and tell her what we are eating for dinner.

 

PERSIMMON SALAD

Serves 8 people

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon fig balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 shallot – peeled and finely diced

Salt and pepper

8 oz. herb salad mix or Mesclun salad mix

4 oz. Mache greens

2 oz. watercress

6 Fuyu persimmons – stem removed, halved and then thinly sliced

  1. Whisk the olive oil and vinegars together in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Stir in the diced shallot and add a large pinch of salt and dome freshly ground pepper. Place salad utensils over the vinaigrette.
  2. Place all the remaining ingredients on top of the salad utensils so that the greens are not sitting in the vinaigrette. Toss the salad just before serving.

 

 

RABBIT IN A MUSHROOM AND MUSTARD SAUCE

Serves 8 people

2 or 3 whole rabbits, depending on the size, each cut into 6 pieces.

1 cup Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

5 cups chicken stock

1 1/2lbs crimini, oyster or brown mushrooms (thinly sliced) – if you happen to spy some Chanterelle mushrooms, these are wonderful in this dish

8 shallots – peeled and quartered

1/3 cup crème fraiche

  1. Place all the rabbit pieces in a large bowl. Spoon 2/3 cup mustard into the bowl and coat all of the rabbit pieces thoroughly with mustard. Add a little salt and pepper and toss the pieces again. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  2. Pour a little olive oil and a tablespoon of butter into a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan placed over medium heat. Stir until the butter foams and then sauté the rabbit pieces until they are browned and golden on all sides. This will take 8-10 minutes per side.
  3. When all the pieces are browned, pour 4 cups of the chicken stock into the pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for a further 25 minutes turning the pieces once or twice during the process.
  4. Place 2 tablespoons butter in a separate pan placed over medium heat. Add in the shallots and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add in the sliced mushrooms and cook for 4-5 minutes so that they are golden brown. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and set aside.
  5. When the rabbit is cooked, remove the pieces from the pan and place them on a warm serving dish in the oven to keep warm whilst you finish the sauce. In a small bowl pour the remaining chicken stock, the remaining mustard and all the crème fraiche. Whisk vigorously so that it is well combined and smooth in consistency. Pour this mustard mixture into the sauté pan holding the cooking juices from the rabbit and bring it a simmer. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the pan getting all those good bits and pieces! The sauce will thicken as you cook it. Add the cooked mushroom slices to the sauce, stir well and then return the rabbit pieces to the pan and then turn them over once or twice to coat them in the sauce.
  6. Check the seasonings, sprinkle with chives and parsley and serve immediately.

Note: You can serve this with basmati rice or plain noodles, but it equally delicious without.



APPLE ‘MILLEFEUILLES’

Serves 8 people

4 apples - Granny Smiths, Breaburn, Fuji or Pink Lady work well – halved and peeled

2 tablespoons butter

½ vanilla bean – seeds scraped out

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch cinnamon

Pinch allspice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Slice each apple half into very fine slices. Keep all the slices for each half together. Place each sliced apple half onto the parchment paper.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the sugar, vanilla bean and spices and cook for 3 minutes. Using a pastry brush, coat each apple half with some of the apple-sugar mixture.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer each apple half onto a dessert plate. This is really good with a small spoon of good vanilla ice cream and the shortbread served alongside.

 
BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD

Makes 20 pieces

4 oz (1 stick) butter

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

½ tablespoon granulated sugar

6 oz flour

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Place the butter in a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat, on medium speed until soft and fluffy. Add in the sugars, and beat again until well combined, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl occasionally.
  3. Add in the flour, vanilla extract and salt, and mix until the dough has just come together. Remove the dough from the bowl and combine into a ball.
  4. Break off a 1-inch piece of the dough and roll it gently in the palms of your hand to form a spherical shape and then place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake the shortbread for 35-40 minutes in the center of the oven. They should be a pale golden color. Place them on a wire rack to cool. They will keep for several days in a sealed container.

 

Written for Edible Santa Barbara - Summer 2011



The golden containers of honey that sat on my grandparent’s breakfast table were scented with the wildflowers and lavender of the French Alps. The jars had a distinctive flower pot shape with the name of the ‘apiculteur’ (honey maker) italicized on the side. The honey’s rich flavor matched the deep flaxen color. My pleasure, each time I tasted it was undiminished. Just the aroma of that honey made me smile. I longed to discover where it came from.

I had always heard about the lavender fields of Provence that lay about two hours’ drive away but for myriad reasons each attempt to visit them had been thwarted. Finally many years later I drove on the meandering small roads of Provence, through the picturesque villages of Cotignac and Aups along the narrow D957, around the beautiful Lake of Ste. Croix, through Moustiers-Ste-Marie and up into the hills leading to the Plateau de Valensole in search of those images that had so mesmerized me. Could those fields of lavender really be around the next corner, or the next? The hint of their sweet aroma indicated that they could not be far away and then, upon the crest of a small hill I glimpsed an undulating wave of blue flowers cresting to the horizon. It was magnificent.

I stopped the car, switched off the engine and stepped out into the early July sun, luxuriating in the breathtaking scenery. Juxtaposed with the lavender fields were acres of golden wheat and tens of thousands of giant sunflowers, whose large orbs traced the arc of the sun in the sky. Here were Van Gogh’s paintings come to life. My daughter ran through the tall flowers, each one gazing down on her. The air was perfumed with a multitude of scents and the constant hum of foraging bees. About those bees .. we were suddenly aware of just how many bees surrounded us and decided to leave them to their work in peace. The odd one buzzed through one open window and out another in the car, legs coated with nectar. No wonder the honey tasted so good.

We stopped in one of the tiny villages on the oft windswept plane. A slightly battered signpost by the side of the road had ten different placards nailed to it indicating local perfume distilleries, lavender shops, soap makers, candle makers honey farms and lavender museums.  The signpost a veritable illustration of lavender’s history and the many uses it has been put to.

Historical records indicate that the Egyptians and Phoenicians used it in their mummification process and in making perfumes. The Romans were responsible for its spread throughout Europe and England.  They used it in their baths and for medicinal purposes. The word lavender stems from the Latin ‘lavare’, meaning to bathe. English lavender fields stem from these times. Roman soldiers took it on military campaigns for a variety of uses, including treating wounds. Indeed its healing properties were first recorded in 77AD by a Greek military physician named Dioscordes (who was employed by the Emperor Nero) in his extensive work ‘De Materia Medica. He spoke of its merits in treating skin and throat ailments, indigestion and headaches.

It was also extensively used as a perfume for rooms by brushing it over the floor, to fumigate treatment rooms for the ill, and has long been used as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. It is particularly soothing when treating burns and insect bites.

Fifteen hundred years later the plant was in high demand in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. She used lavender in many forms, from perfume to tea, the latter as a remedy for migraines. Lavender has since been used in everything from aromatherapy, soaps, and candles to detergents and medicine. During the First World War, lavender oil was used to dress wounds if medics ran short on antiseptics.

It was first brought to America by the pilgrims in the 1600’s and migrated with them as they crossed the country. California’s Mediterranean climate is particularly suited to the production of lavender, which brings me back to that honey.

Not long ago, strolling through the Santa Barbara farmer’s market I tasted some honey from San Marcus Farms. They have a raw, unfiltered local Wildflower Honey which is a transatlantic echo of the one I ate as I child. I stood with my eyes closed, my taste buds running a culinary film in my mind of honey’s past. I hope that they will have a lavender honey soon.  In the mean time I used the honey with fresh lavender from my garden to make a glaze for a roast chicken, the aroma of Provence and the central coast all rolled into one.

It seems that old recipes containing the plant are common for jellies, preserves, desserts and sweets but its use as a culinary perfume of the savory kind is more recent. Over the last decade dishes with lavender have filtered through all parts of a three course meal. Any quick search on the internet will flood your screen with tasty treats filled with the blue flowers. It pairs well with citrus fruit and mint (it is part of the mint family), thyme and rosemary, hence its inclusion in Herbes de Provence. It’s wonderful paired with goat cheese and tastes marvelous with grilled meats and roasts. The more I cook with it, the more I appreciate the depth of flavor it can give a dish, although you have to be careful not to use too much. As with all perfumes, an excess of it can be overpowering, but used with a delicate hand, it is fragrant and enticing.   

GOAT CHEESE SALAD

Serves 8 people

1 tablespoon mustard

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon vinegar

4 oz. Mache greens

2 oz. mixed salad greens

1 tablespoon lavender flowers – finely chopped

1 tablespoon parsley – finely chopped

1 tablespoon chives – finely chopped

2 sprigs thyme – leaves removed and finely chopped

Zest of 1 lemon

4 oz. goat cheese log

  1. Combine the mustard, olive oil and vinegar in a salad bowl and whisk together to form an emulsion. Place salad utensils over the vinaigrette. Place the mixed greens and mache greens on top of the utensils.
  2. Combine the herbs and zest in a small bowl. Place the goat cheese on a plate and then cover the goat cheese with the herb mixture, rolling the log so that it is completely covered. Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Cut the log into ½-inch slices. Set aside.
  3. When you are ready to serve the salad, toss so that it is well coated. Divide equally on salad plates and top each salad with slices of goat cheese. Serve with a warm baguette or olive bread.

 

ROASTED BEEF TENDERLOINS WITH A HERB AND LAVENDER CRUST

Serves 8 people

2 ½ - 3 lb beef tenderloin

Medium coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lavender – finely chopped

1 tablespoon lemon thyme – roughly chopped

1 tablespoon chives – finely chopped

1 tablespoon oregano – finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lavender honey

2 tablespoons butter

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the tenderloin in a large oven proof dish. Pour a little olive oil over the meat so that it is completely coated. Sprinkle a large pinch of salt and pepper over the tenderloin.
  3. Roast for 15 minutes then reduce the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. In a small bowl combine the fresh herbs with a little olive oil to form a herb paste. Remove the tenderloin from the oven and spoon the herb mixture over the roast, pressing them in gently to adhere to the meat. Return the pan to the oven.
  5. Roast for an additional 25–30 minutes for medium-rare meat. The internal temperature should be 125 degrees.
  6. Remove the meat from the oven and let it rest on a cutting board, covered loosely with for foil for 10 minutes before slicing thinly.
  7. Place the baking dish that held the roast on the stove over a medium flame. Add the butter and honey and as the butter melts, scrape up all the delicious brown bits that will be in the bottom of the pan. Add a touch of hot water if necessary to create a light sauce.
  8. Place the thinly sliced filet mignon onto warm dinner plates and then spoon a little of the pan juices over the slices of filet. Serve with the braised endives.




BRAISED ENDIVES

Serves 8 people

8 endives - halved

Olive oil

Butter

Salt and pepper

  1. Trim the ends off the endives and cut them lengthwise in half. Peel away the outer leaves.
  2. In a large saucepan (large enough to hold all the endive halves in one layer) add a little olive oil and a large knob of butter. Heat until sizzling. Place each of the endive halves in the pan and brown on both sides – approx. 3–4 minutes each side.
  3. Once browned add salt and pepper and enough water to come 1/3 of the way up the side of the endives. Reduce heat and cook slowly for 20 – 25 minutes covered, turning occasionally.  Serve alongside the filet mignon with some of the pan juices from the endives.

 

 LAVENDER POTS DE CRÈME

Serves 8 people

2 ½ cups heavy whipping cream – do not use ultra-pasteurized cream as it will cause the pots de crème to separate

6 springs lavender flowers – coarsely chopped

5 ½ oz sugar (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon)

Just under 1/3 cup lemon juice

3 tablespoons lavender flowers – coarsely chopped

  1. Place the cream, chopped lavender and sugar in a small saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Then remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and let stand for 5 minutes. The mixture will start to thicken in the pan.
  2. Divide the mixture evenly amongst 8 small cups or ramekins, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until the mixture has set. Serve with a crisp cookie.
Written for Edible Santa Barbara - Spring 2011

My French Grandmother, Geneviève Fay, kept a very formal household and meals there were – even on the simplest of days – fairly grand affairs. Each guest would use a minimum of three plates, two glasses, two knives, three forks and a spoon. More formal occasions necessitated a battalion of silverware to be lined up across her pristine tablecloths.

As a young child I was taught how to lay tables for different occasions, the placement of different pieces, calligraphy for place cards and the delicate art of how to seat ones guests. A very ridged hierarchy ruled when it came to whom sat next to whom. Seating arrangements in France and in many Latin countries dictate that to be seated in the middle of a rectangular table are the places of honor as opposed to the head of the table in the US and the UK. She orchestrated all of this with the elegant ease of someone who has dined in this manner for her entire life. I reveled in it, and in the grand tables, the cupboards full of etched porcelain and heavy linens. There was something enchanting, celebratory and imposing about this.

Even her picnics were majestic. We would drive around the countryside, find a suitable spot and in a relatively short period of time, a bucolic scene would unfold as the car would disgorge an inordinate amount of equipment, including tables, linens, folding chairs (for the adults), throws, baskets filled with pates, cheeses, wine, salads and fruit. Picnic silverware and linen napkins were de rigueur. I always felt as though I had stepped into a 20th century version of a Monet painting.

Life in London on the other hand, where I lived for most of the school year was less ceremonial, and although we did not use regiments of silverware; large dinner parties with friends and family were a regular part of our lives. Same idea, less formal, just as much fun.  

So what is it about this gathering around a table that is so attractive and familial, and yet seems to have - in the space of one or two generations – almost disappeared from our daily landscape? Our schedules have certainly become more hectic. Children are often rushing from one after school activity to another and we all work. This daily gathering, so central to our lives twenty, thirty years ago, now occurs as little as once a week in many families, in some, not at all.

Much has been written about the effect of family dinners: that eating together more than four times a week has a direct correlation between better educational scores in children; a reduction in drug and alcohol abuse in kids; and the fact that people who dine together tend to have better nutrition than those who don’t. But putting aside those facts, it appears that the very essence of dinner; this shared communion both in terms of food and ideas, has become, for many people, something of a relic. It’s an occasion trotted out once or twice a year, for Thanksgiving, birthdays and the holidays perhaps. Why? It is too much work? Too complicated?

A meal in the traditional sense is akin to a good book. Its introduction entices you. As with a novel that makes you want to turn the page; the first course of a meal holds the promise of the culinary story that’s about to unfold. The dish will stimulate your appetite and your curiosity.

As with a novel’s core, where the central characters and plot are developed, the main course is the foundation upon which the entire meal was built. Flavors are layered and senses satisfied.

Dessert is the culmination of the gustatory journey. Where the novel’s plot is revealed, the diners reward is something delectable and sweet.  

Julia Child once wrote, "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients."  So do all meals have to hold to this traditional format to qualify as a dinner? I like to think that the food you share with friends need not be an elaborate production, nor, in some cases, necessitate a table.

I spent many summers in France hiking in the Alps. We would often leave before dawn to arrive at the trail head at first light. We would walk in the crisp mountain air up to our favorite alpine lakes. After hours of rambling through mountain gorse and clambering over the steep summer goat tracks we would arrive at our destination and find a suitable spot to rest and have lunch before trekking back down. Propped up on a rock we’d unpack rucksacks. Lunch would consist of fresh baguettes (halved and slathered with butter earlier in the morning) filled with slices of ham. Tomatoes, hard boiled eggs and a good piece of gruyere were also on hand. Out would come a trusty Opinel mountain knife to cut the ingredients. Eggs were cracked against a convenient rock. We’d each find a suitable perch and eat together amidst the ancient silent splendor of those alpine valleys, retreating glaciers glistening above us.

This was not a meal in the traditional sense, but one filled with rituals passed down through the generations. Dessert was always the promise of a tongue-staining blueberry tart available in the mountain chalet at the bottom of the valley. We’d arrive tired, take off our dusty boots, dip our feet in the freezing alpine waters of a nearby stream and revel in the day. A meal spread out over a few hours and a few thousand vertical feet, but a meal nonetheless.

From a mountain top to an elaborate dining room, meals and their accompanying rituals can vary greatly but they need not be overwhelming, nor do they need to be dinner. A friend of mine, frustrated by the myriad after- school commitments of her many children, decided that breakfast would become the family meal each day. This was their time to connect with each other around plates of scrambled eggs, glasses of orange juice and cups of coffee.

The French diplomat, Charles Maurice de Tallyrand said, “Show me a another pleasure, like dinner, which comes every day and lasts an hour.“ Whatever the time of day, or the place, even if it’s just for thirty minutes, a meal shared, with its accompanying rituals, free of TVs, cell phones, text messages and iPods is surely a pleasure worth fighting for.

FRESH PEA SOUP

Serves 8 people

6 shallots – peeled and thinly sliced

3 spring onions – ends trimmed and finely chopped

1 bunch chives – very finely chopped

4 cups fresh peas

5 cups vegetable stock

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Fresh black pepper to taste

  1. Place the olive oil, shallots, spring onions and chives in a large saucepan and cook over low heat until the onions are translucent.
  2. Add in the vegetable stock, salt and some white pepper and bring to a strong simmer. Add in the peas and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the stock has returned to a strong simmer. Remove from the heat.
  3. Let the soup cool a little before pureeing it with an immersion blender or in batches, in a blender or food processor. Be careful when you do this in a blender as the lid can sometimes pop off if you have overfilled the blender.
  4. Once the soup is thoroughly blended, return it to the saucepan to keep warm until it is time to serve.
  5. To serve the soup, place a cupful in warmed soup bowls, add a dollop of crème fraiche in the center of the soup and garnish with the tomato mixture below.

For the garnish:

¼ cup crème fraiche

2 tomatoes – seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil

1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme

1 teaspoon freshly chopped oregano

1 teaspoon olive oil

  1. In a small bowl place the diced tomatoes, basil, thyme, oregano and oil. Combine the ingredients and set aside until ready to serve. See item 4 above.


PROVENCAL LEG OF LAMB

Serves 8 – 10 people

1 whole leg of lamb, bone in and trimmed of almost all the fat.

7 – 8 cloves of garlic, cut in half and the green kernel removed

olive oil

Herbs de Provence

2 or 3 branches of fresh rosemary

salt and pepper

1 cup red wine

1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon cold butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place the leg of lamb in a large oven-proof dish, rubbing olive oil all over it.
  3. Using a sharp knife make small incisions all over the leg of lamb, approx. an inch deep and evenly spaced. Insert a sliver of garlic into each hole.
  4. Sprinkle a large handful of the Herbs de Provence over the meat so that it evenly covers the roast. Add the fresh rosemary sprigs to the roasting pan around the lamb and add one or two sprigs on top of the lamb too. Sprinkle the lamb with some salt and pepper just before putting the roast in the oven.
  5. Place the roast in the middle of the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 400 degrees and roast for another 1 hour and five minutes (for a total cooking time of 1hr 20mins.) This is the timing for red meat – if you would like your lamb a little less pink add 10 minutes or so. Once the roast is cooked, remove it from the roasting dish and let it rest for at least 10-15 minutes before carving it. When you are ready to serve the lamb, slice the roast thinly and evenly.
  6. While the lamb is resting, pour off any excess fat from the roasting dish and then deglaze the pan with some red wine. Bring the liquid to a boil and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the roasting dish and let the mixture reduce by half. Add the teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and then lower the temperature and let the mixture simmer. Just before serving add a tablespoon of cold butter to the sauce.



ENDIVES SALAD WITH FAVA BEANS AND HERBS

Serves 8 people

For the vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon olive oil

Juice of 1 Meyer lemon

1 tablespoon crème fraiche

Salt and pepper

For the salad:

8 endives – leaves peeled away and left intact – roughly chop the core

4 shallots – peeled and thinly sliced

2 lbs fava beans – both layers peeled away. Once peeled, sauté the fava beans with the shallots in a little olive oil for 3 minutes and set aside

1 crunchy sweet apple – cored and thinly sliced

½ cup black Provencal olives - pitted and roughly chopped

½ bunch chives – finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley – finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro – finely chopped

1 tablespoons fresh dill – finely chopped

1 Meyer lemon – ends trimmed away and then very thinly sliced

  1. Place all the vinaigrette ingredients in a salad bowl and whisk together. Place serving utensils on top of the vinaigrette and then place all the salad ingredients on top of the utensils. When ready to serve, toss gently so that the endive leaves stay intact.


CLASSIC CHERRY CLAFOUTIS

Serves 8 – 10 people

3 cups milk

8 oz sugar (1¼ cups)

1 vanilla bean split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (2/3 cup)

5 large eggs

2 lbs cherries - pitted

1 tablespoon Cognac – optional

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. In a medium sized saucepan heat the milk with the sugar and the vanilla bean or vanilla extract. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl place the flour and then whisk in one egg at a time. You should have a completely smooth batter. Slowly stir in the milk mixture. The batter should be very liquid but free of any lumps. Set aside.
  4. Place the cherries in a shallow round baking dish and add the Cognac (if using). Toss with a spoon until all the pieces are coated.
  5. Pour the batter over the fruit and fill the baking dish.
  6. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. The Clafoutis is done when you giggle the pan and it is set. The top should appear golden brown. Serve at room temperature. This dessert is also great the next day.
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