Food & Fragrance: 129 posts

Articles about the gourmand pleasures, flavorful cooking, scent and taste experiments and tested recipe ideas

Magnolia Wine and Grandiflora Cocktail

“The French have a civilized tradition called the “apéro,” a time to relax after a long day, chat, and enjoy a drink before dinner,” writes Angela Sanders in The Paris Edition of her monthly newsletter. “Rather than the tastebud-obliterating cocktail, they prefer something softer, such as a modest glass of fortified wine on ice. You might have heard of vin d’orange and vin de noix, but what about vin de magnolia?” I hadn’t, and Angela’s description of vin de magnolia as an apéritif with “a vanilla-spicy-herbal flavor” made me long to try it.

magnolia-cocktail

Many of you know Angela’s column on Now Smell This, but she also is the author of Dior or Die, The Halston HitThe Lanvin Murders, and a number of other mystery novels involving vintage fashions. In addition to her writing skills, she has a talent for discovering gems, be they retro garments, perfume, or as in this case, cocktails.

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Apricot Poppyseed Cake

The smell of a ripe apricot is mesmerizing enough to make me want to give up perfumery and tend an orchard instead.   It smells of cream, sweet orange, bitter almond, and a hint of rose. Unfortunately, unless you have access to an apricot grove, finding such a perfect specimen is difficult. Apricots are invariably picked green, and even if they soften, they never develop the perfume of tree-ripened fruit.

apricot-poppyseed2

There is, however, one technique to unlock some of the apricot’s fragrant potential. It’s to cook it. Even the hard supermarket variety becomes luscious and perfumed, especially if you add a touch of vanilla. I often sprinkle apricots with vanilla sugar and rosewater and roast them just until they start to turn jammy and tender. You can add cream, but that’s already gilding the lily. Or I make a poppyseed cake topped with apricots, an ideal late summer-early fall dessert.

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The Art of a Perfect Flatbread : Chapati

Chapati, also known as roti, is the most popular bread in India (in addition to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other parts of Asia where Indians have set foot). Save for the southern states where rice is the main starch, flatbreads are the staple in other areas of India. Freshly off the pan, chapati is one of the most delicious things you can eat, and all of my Indian culinary highlights include it in one form or another. Although I don’t cook Indian food daily, chapati is a frequent presence on our dinner table. Made with whole wheat flour, water and a tiny bit of oil, it’s versatile enough for a variety of accompaniments, from prosciutto and mozzarella to avocado and shrimp salad. It’s also perfect on its own with a dab of salted butter.

chapati-stack

Watching my mother-in-law turning out chapatis with lightning speed, I decided to record the process for a masterclass. You’ll find two short videos below. My mother-in-law is quite modest about her talents, but she’s one of the most accomplished cooks I’ve met, with an innate feeling for flavors and interesting combinations. (I know that some of you have made the cc powder already–that’s another one of her lessons.) You need to turn out hundreds of chapatis before yours will look as perfect as hers, but it doesn’t matter. Even if your chapati is closer in shape to the outline of India than a circle, it will still taste just as good.

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Cauliflower with Saffron and Coriander

Saffron has the reputation of a luxurious spice. Use it in tiny quantities for the most delicate of preparations like custards and seafood bisques, advises many a cookbook. Certainly, unless you live in saffron producing areas like Iran, Turkey or Kashmir, you’ll pay more for saffron than other spices in your collection, but its flavor is so dramatic that it’s worth a splurge. What I don’t agree with is using saffron only in special occasion dishes. Life is too short for that.

cauliflower-saffron1

Saffron has a medicinal-leathery scent, with a hint of apricot and floral notes. Its fragrance will entice on its own, but it’s bold enough to stand up next to strong flavors. Today’s recipe is a good example. It’s a cold cauliflower dish, and it’s a good vehicle for saffron. The combination of coriander, saffron and white wine is the right blend of spice and acidity, and it gives cauliflower elegance that one doesn’t usually expect from cruciferous vegetables.

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White Acacia Tisane

Acacia blossoms mark the beginning of summer in Poltava. White clusters appear on craggy trees that ordinarily get noticed only because their powerful roots crack the pavement around the city. But come May, the streets are filled with their perfume of sweet orange and jasmine and the sidewalks are covered with a carpet of white pointy blossoms. “Now it’s really the end of spring,” remarks an elderly woman to no one in particular. She rearranges bunches of green onions and dill on a makeshift stall she set up near a bus stop and brushes off the fallen acacia flowers onto the pavement.

white acacia

I count spring not in months but in flowers. First come apricot blossoms and star magnolias. Then cherry blossoms make their brief entrance turning dreary Soviet-era street blocks into Impressionist etudes. Apples, lilacs, and viburnum move in successive waves, and finally it’s the time of acacias. In their heady perfume I smell the blistering heat of summer and dusty chestnut leaves.

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