Food & Fragrance: 131 posts

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

Pomegranate and Orange Blossom

Along with blood oranges, quince and yuzu, pomegranates make me anticipate winter. Their season starts in the autumn and continues even when our northern European lands enter the somber grey days of February. Most of the pomegranates in Belgium come from Turkey, but I’ve discovered that Spanish and Californian fruit has the best taste, a rich melange of sour, sweet and mildly tannic notes that calls to mind red wine and Cornelian cherries.

To select a good pomegranate, look for a glossy, heavy fruit that doesn’t have soft spots. Different varieties of pomegranates range from dark red to pale pink, so pick the richest colored fruit from the batch. Opening a pomegranate holds a sense of suspense–what will it hold inside its leathery skin? The moment when the orb breaks open to reveal the segments full of garnet beads is a small wonder. I’ve opened hundreds of pomegranates in my life, but this giddy delight never lessens.

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Rum Raisin Cake

Next to the cookbooks written by my great-grandmother Olena, my other beloved ones are by the Ukrainian food writer Daria Tsvek. I love her voice, advice, and of course, recipes that highlight the flavorful Galician cuisine of Tsvek’s native Lviv. Last week I tried Tsvek’s rum raisin cake that comes from a book called For the Festive Table (До Святкового Столу). Published in 1973, it offers menus and recipes for holidays and celebrations, along with suggestions on how to organize one’s time and host dinner parties.

I picked up the book for my cookbook collection, but I ended up cooking so much from it that I made a photocopy to use in the kitchen. Tsvek’s imaginative and inventive flair fill the pages. She’s able to concoct an elegant feast out of the simplest ingredients, and reading her book I’m not even aware of the endemic Soviet shortages that must have made the task of a recipe writer difficult. Her rum raisin cake turned out to be buttery, crumbly and fragrant, a recipe to add to my baking repertoire.

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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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