23 July 2013


As we approach the end of sour cherry season, here's a cherry-almond-apricot crisp.

21 July 2013

saffron pancetta risotto

I didn't make this, but it was the second course at a wonderful dinner tonight. Risotto in a vegetable stock with a cream-saffron sauce added near the end of cooking, with pancetta. Delicious.

16 July 2013

pickled sour cherries — cerises à l'aigre-doux

Both Elizabeth David (in French Provincial Cooking) and  Jane Grigson (in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book) have recipes for pickled cherries — cerises à l'aigre-doux. I was tempted, and did, and they are a fabulous hors-d'œuvre, here with radishes waiting to be devoured with salt and refreshing cornichons.

I boiled 6 oz of sugar with 12 oz of red wine vinegar, a half dozen each cloves and crushed juniper berries, a bit of true cinnamon (the stuff from Sri Lanka that looks more like actual bark and is more subtle), and some lemon peel. I let this simmer for ten minutes, then cooled and strained it. I used enough cherries (a little less than a quart) to use up the vinegar mixture, and let them sit in a cabinet for two weeks (perhaps longer if it's cooler than hot Chicago summer where you are). After this, they tasted ready and went into the fridge.

They are really quite marvelous, and my guests loved them. Tart, savory, surprising.

15 July 2013


Summertime is when salade niçoise is the best way to entertain without air conditioning: everything can be prepared ahead, and then assembled just before serving.

14 July 2013

sour cherry pie

One of my favorite things about living in Chicago in the summer is being so close to Michigan, one of the few places that produces sour cherries, which, I would argue, are more complex and have more flavor than sweet cherries. They are also better for baking.

I was over-zealous with the cherries, so they bubbled up over the lattice. Nonetheless, this was an incredible cherry pie. Just 1½ quarts cherries, a cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of tapioca, some vanilla and almond liqueur, and a bit of salt. Sour cherries are complex, never cloying, and this was remarkably well-balanced, especially with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

11 July 2013

the glory of the apricot

Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, explains that the "almond" flavor that one expects—and doesn't find in almonds—is benzaldehyde, which is found in bitter almonds and other stone fruits. Unfortunately, the kernels of stone fruits contain both benzaldehyde and cyanide, so they are illegal in the United States—"Our safe 'sweet' almond varieties lack both the bitterness and the characteristic aroma."

I generally make frangipane tarts with almonds and almond extract, but this time I made an apricot-frangipane tart studded with Rainier cherries, and I added two raw apricot kernels (ground up with the almonds and sugar) instead of almond extract (to a three-cup frangipane batch). The apricots were skinned (by blanching) to keep the frangipane from pulling away from the fruit.

The difference was noticable: the tart has a wonderful aroma (it may not be my most beautiful, but the crust was beautifully flaky and it was my most delicious) and the flavor was far superior. I'm not advocating eating apricot kernals in large quanity, certainly, but a couple go a long way. Just wrap the pit in a towel, place on a hard surface (stone, or concrete) and tap with a hammer—voilà: a better frangipane.