Marmalade and Chocolate Ice Cream
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Marmalade is a preserve made of citrus fruits, usually studded with the bitter rind of the fruit itself. While it can be made of lemons or limes, grapefruits or clementines, the traditional marmalade uses the Seville orange (although the best one I’ve ever had was made from oranges and tangerines, making it just slightly sweeter).
Marmalade is one of those polarizing ingredients: either you love it and smother your toast with it, or its bitter-sweetness makes your tongue shrivel in protest. The Secret Ingredient‘s marmalade recipes are a compromise. I can’t promote just bitter-sweet jam on toast, but to overlook the complexity of marmalade in different applications is just as foolhardy. The texture makes it perfect for thick sauces like in last week’s Orange Peel Shrimp. And its warring bitterness and sweetness adds such depth to the otherwise very sweet chocolate chip ice cream in this recipe.
Cheated Cherry Clafoutis
Cherry clafoutis is a dessert from the Limousin region of France, where, traditionally, it is served with unpitted cherries baked inside. Certainly a good trick to prevent your eating your cake too quickly.
I love it for the holidays because it is a family dessert—wholesome, rustic, and simple, but punctuated with those Christmas red, Rudolph nose cherries. Serve with vanilla ice cream and crushed green pistachio nuts and you have the perfect thing to eat while waiting for Santa to shimmy down the chimney.
Red Pepper Caviar in a Chilled Artichoke
I know food should be about flavor and not about color, but since you eat with your eyes first, I tend to a get more colorful with my themed food around the holidays. This appetizer is red and green, but it’s also elegant and refined—perfect for the holidays.
Vegetable caviar is not what it sounds like: no fish eggs here. It’s a kind of deeply flavored spread or dip made from the softened flesh of vegetables, usually nightshades. I most commonly pick up a tub of caviar d’aubergines (eggplant caviar) at the Monoprix in Paris and eat it with a baguette in the park. But two summers ago when passing through Antibes, I had a sweet red pepper version stuffed into mushroom caps, served with champagne. It’s colorful, garlicky, sweet, and a touch spicy.
Broccoli and Brie Soup
The best part about the holidays has to be the surprises. Glancing at that bulging stocking as it gets stuffed throughout the month. Wishing for Superman’s X-ray vision as you secretly and silently investigate those wrapped and bowed boxes from across the room. The news that so-and-so is coming home when you least expected it. Headlines that Santa really does exist seem somehow completely believable in a season where surprise is the rule of engagement.
Right now, I am back in Florida, where I spent some time growing up, celebrating the holidays amidst bedazzled palm trees, on the verge of a melt down–or rather, a freeze up. I suppose ’tis the season for a white Christmas, but anticipated wind chills below 20 degrees in Palm Beach? Now, that’s a surprise.
Orange Peel Shrimp
For all that I write about on this site, you might think that my grandmother and I sit around plucking escargots every time we meet for lunch. But our true tradition is a hedonistic Chinese lunch, with fortune cookie reading-aloud time for dessert. And while some of our other dishes may change depending on the week, the one thing we always order is orange peel shrimp: sweet, spicy, savory, and tart all at once, it’s meaty and perfect and the kind of thing I always thought I could never in a million years recreate at home.
How wrong I was.
Apple and Pear Beignets with Vanilla Sugar
For some, the holidays are about faith. For me, suffice it to say they’re about food. We all know the story of Hanukkah: a drop of oil burned for eight miraculous nights. Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah, how I adore you! I love grease—always have, and always will. So, if there’s a holiday that celebrates the deep fried, you can count me among the pious.
Every year for Hanukkah, I make two things: Maneschewitz granita and beignets. Last year I did a Provençal lavender and apricot edition, but this year, I wanted something more wintry, more Nutcracker. And though I didn’t use sugarplums, there’s something about the late autumnal fruitiness of apples and pears with the black dappling fresh vanilla seeds that goes so perfectly with Arabian coffee.
The Croque Monsieur Burger
Children are picky eaters. Some of them seem to be on a perpetual hunger strike. And while moral fortitude and tenacity are admirable at any age, parents mostly seem thrilled when their child finds one thing they are willing to eat. Although my parents might have been less than thrilled, because for me, that food was bacon cheeseburgers.
I can still remember my old bacon cheeseburger haunts: The Beach Café and Jackson Hole in the East Sixties in New York, and Joshua’s up in Woodstock. And many places in between, because like an honest addict, I couldn’t go very long between. I loved that rare, crumbling meatiness of the burger, mixed with the soft enveloping blanket of cheese that seemed as comforting as a down duvet on a December day, the way it stuck deliciously to the roof of my mouth. And on top of that, the crisp winter-fire smokiness of the bacon, like the smell of a nearby chimney on a cold day, just chewy on the verge of crisp. It was perfect, and I loved it. And I ate it.