Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mmmmm - Mulberries!

So, not everyone fell in love with Lynda and Larry, who during a chance meeting, discovered they each had an unusual affinity for Lychees.  I do hope, however, you gave my lychee ice cream recipe a try – it truly is delicious.
Just a note; I shared my delectable treat with a few culinary friends, and while their responses were positive, one of my chefs told me I had actually prepared a sorbet. “No,” I replied, “it’s ice cream.”  “Nope,” he said smiling, “it’s not creamy enough to be considered ice cream.”  It was true, though smooth and sweet, with the succulent tone of lychee and a few high notes provided by the fresh lime zest and grated ginger, my concoction was not terribly rich and creamy. 

“You didn’t add enough sugar,” my wise-sage of a pastry chef continued.  “I didn’t use any sugar.” I replied proudly.  “I used honey.  And not much of that, since lychee are so sweet on their own. “  Chef “L” (his name really does begin with the letter L, I’m not making this up) went on to explain a good dose of sugar works to reduce the ice crystals, while acting as a stabilizer when churning.  I can use honey, sugar even corn syrup, but no matter which sweetener I chose, if the desired outcome is ice cream and not sorbet, I need to be a bit more generous.  Next time I prepare my lychee ice cream I will indeed add an additional ¼ cup honey – for a creamy, velvety outcome.  
Mm is for Mulberry

On to my Seasonal Alpha-Food of the Week; Mulberries.  If memory serves me correctly the nursery rhyme chorus went something like this; “Here we go ‘round the Mulberry Bush, the Mulberry Bush, the Mulberry Bush, here we ‘round the Mulberry Bush, so early in the morning.”  I believe this old English song was first recorded in the mid-19th century and unlike, Here We Go ‘Round the Maypole, which is really an X-rated adult chant in the guise of a children’s nursery rhyme, The Mulberry Bush was intended as a learning song. 
I can remember standing gathered outside on the playground, holding hands with my classmates as our teacher arranged us on the painted circle of the blacktop.  Slowly and carefully we would walk, tracing the circle loudly singing the chorus, then stopping to act out the directives; “this is the way we brush our teeth,” or “brush our hair,” or my favourtie, “this is the way we wash our clothes.”  I fervently orchestrated washing clothes on an old washer board the same way I’d seen my grandmother do it long before she and Papa had a real washing machine!

But I wondered, why the Mulberry Bush?  Actually, Mulberries aren’t bushes at all.  They’re gargantuan, deciduous trees that can grow between 30-50 feet tall with a 35 foot spread.  Fortunately the wind pollinates these monsters of green, so you need only one to reap the reward of the mulberry fruit, although they do take several years to mature.  I did read about Dwarf Mulberry trees, which appear incredibly easy to grow in large pots.
Back to why the Mulberry bush, well I couldn’t find any answers.  Only that it’s the Bramble Bush in Scandinavia and the Juniper Bush in the Netherlands.  Perhaps the Mulberry tree held some special interest for the originators of this little diddley in that it is the sole source of food and lodging for the treasured silkworm.  While they eat only Mulberry leaves, these busy weavers don’t seem terribly choosy about whether they are feasting on those trees indigenous to Eastern and Central China which produce the white Mulberries, those native to western Asia which produce the purply-black berries or our home-town fellow, the Red or American Mulberry tree, found on the Eastern side of the U.S.
As the silkworm is busy cocooning itself in its own personal version of a top-shelf Sleep Number bed, the Mulberry tree goes on to produce berries which are available for only a short period of time, from late May through early June.  Taste wise Mulberries can range from rather bland to sticky sweet.  You can use them interchangeable with recipes calling for Blackberries and Raspberries.  But don’t underestimate these plump little conglomerates of seeds and pulp.  They are rich in iron, flavonoids and vitamin C.  With smaller amounts of vitamins E and A.
It’s true; during our summer season we walk into any market and are met by baskets and plastic containers of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.  Mulberries took more searching, but after a few stops my hunt and peck mission was rewarded.  Because this berry is rather special and not available year round, I didn’t want to prepare the standard pie, gallette, or jam.  I considered cooking them down, creating a viscous reduction doctored with a splash of sweet red wine.  Then straining the mixture through my chinoise and finally drizzling the luxurious mixture over a partially sliced, herb-roasted chicken.  But it’s too hot to roast a chicken in Vegas in July.   I just made ice cream (sorbet) last week and I definitely didn’t want to toss my malleable Mulberries into my Vitamix!
Instead I decided to prepare a Mulberry Gratin with a Grand Marnier Sabayon.  Sounds intimating I know but it’s not!  Using only 6 ingredients, a copper bowl (glass if you don’t have copper) a good balloon whisk and a willingness to work your biceps and triceps, you’ll end up with an ebullient emulsion.  Sabayon, like its Italian counterpart, Zabaglione, is a foamy, luminous, egg-y, custard.  When poured into individual Le Crueset au gratin dishes, where our jubilant berries await their tepid bath, it makes for a creative and succor appellation over the traditional presentation in champagne glasses. 

Here’s my recipe for Mulberry Gratin with Grand Marnier Sabayon
1 ½ - 2 cups fresh Mulberries                            4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons fine (Bakers) sugar                    3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon vanilla paste                                    about 1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Tools – a medium copper or glass bowl, don’t use stainless or ceramic, a good balloon whisk, 4 au gratin or ramekins

1)      Butter each au gratin dish with unsalted butter, distribute rinsed Mulberries evenly among each dish and place them on a cookie sheet.  Set to the side until ready to fill.

2)      Place the copper or glass bowl over a pot of low-simmering water on the stove.  Do not let the bowl touch the water.Pour the Grand Marnier, sugar and egg yolks into the bowl, in that exact order (dumping sugar over egg yolks can burn them)

3) Using your whisk begin to whip the mixture over the simmering water.  You’re going to get a good upper arm workout here.  Continue to whisk until mixture becomes frothy and pale yellow.  This will take about 8-10 minutes.  Don’t walk away, change arms if you need to.  You’ll know the mixture is ready then you lift the whisk up and the custard that drips back into the bowl takes about 8 seconds to flatten out.

4)      Remove the bowl from the heat, but keep whisking for another 2-3 minutes, allowing the mixture to cool down slightly.  Add the lemon zest and vanilla paste here, keep whisking.

5)      Spoon the Sabayon over the berries and place the cookie sheet with the filled au gratin dishes on it in the broiler until the custard and a light, golden brown on top.  About 1-2 minutes.
 Serve Immediately – Makes 4 servings

No one gave me time to plate up the finished product!  They spooned this dessert up so fast!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lychees or Litchis?

There once was a lady named Lynda.  She lived in Louisiana and loved lychees.  She often ate them fresh, sometimes incorporated them into her baked desserts or added them sliced, to her salads.  But Lynda wasn’t happy in Louisiana, she longed to leave her job at the Laundromat , with all its noise, lone socks left in dryers and coins jammed into machines clearly marked, “out of order.”   Instead Lynda wanted to lead a life of glamour and glitz, and follow her calling as a line-dancer. 
     Lynda finally made her move to Las Vegas and found a tiny studio apartment just off Spring Mountain, in an area known as China Town.  Within a week she found a part time job working as a waitress and spent her first day off lining her warped and splintered kitchen cupboards with pink floral contact paper .  By late afternoon, deciding the kitchen was as ready as would ever be, she went shopping at a nearby Asian market.  It was there she met Larry.  They were both reaching for the one can of lychees on the shelf. 
     He was left-handed but that didn’t matter.  He loved lychees as much as Lynda.  He tole her he kept a staple supply of lychee simple syrup to use in cocktails of his own creation.  He always included dried litchi nuts in his homemade trail mix when hiking. 
  Larry and Lynda fell in love quickly once they realized they both loved  lychees.  They decided to live together. Though light on money they were large on ambition, working hard and happy, not really caring they lived in lack-luster apartment.    
   Every evening, after a dinner of noodles and vegetables, followed by a couple of canned lychee for dessert, Larry headed off to work as a bartender at a lively biker bar.  Lynda would blend up some lychee in her smoothie then race out the door to dance classes and auditions between shifts at the restaurant.  While everyone was impressed with how limber she was, alas, she was not tall enough nor well-endowed enough.     Lynda’s drive to dance was beginning to lag.  Larry lamented almost nightly about the smoke the loud music and the fights that occurred in the bar. 
   Now it had always been Larry’s dream to open a Laundromat, actually an entire chain of Laundromats!  So after months of let-downs and too little money, Lynda relented and taught Larry everything she knew about running a Laundromat. 
   Today, Lynda and Larry own a league of Laundromats.  They have lots of money and live in a larger and more lavish apartment where they invite all their friends for parties and gatherings.  Of course Lychee fruit is always on the menu, whether it is stirred into a mojito during a barbeque or shaken into a martini during a quiet dinner.  Lynda and Larry laugh when they see their friends’ eyes pop when they are shown how to peel, pit and pop a fresh lychee into their mouths. 
   Lynda likes to experiment and see how far she can go with this ancient fruit of Chinese origin.  Everyone loves her lychee and coconut ice cream and Larry’s spicy and sweet lychee salsa. 
   How I  wish Larry and Lynda were my friends.  However, they've inspired me to go out and scavenge up some lychee fruit, fresh or canned.    

Recipe for Sweet & Spicy Lychee Salsa
4 ripe peaches or nectarines,-diced                        ½ pound green, seedless grapes,-stemmed and chopped
1 cup fresh lychees,-peeled, pitted and rough chopped      ½ cup red onion-minced
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce-chopped                      ¼ cup chopped roasted red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro                                           1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, (about 2-3 limes)          1 tablespoon olive oil                                                                salt and pepper to taste
1)      In large bowl combing the peaches or nectarines, grapes, onion, lychee, and chipotle peppers
2)      Stir in cilantro, lime juice and olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If you’d like more heat add a teaspoon at a time of the adobo sauce. 
 This salsa is best served same day – but can be stored in covered container up to 3 days.
                                                                                                     Makes approximately 4 cups

Recipe for Lychee and Coconut Ice Cream
1 can of coconut milk, (regular)                         1 cup reduced-fat coconut milk
12-15 lychees – peeled and pitted                     2 tablespoons fresh ginger 
Zest and juice of 1 lime                                     1 tablespoon vanilla paste            1 pinch salt
1/4 cup honey                                           
 fresh mint – chopped for garnish and 2-4 tablespoons toasted coconut for garnish

1)      In a medium saucepot, over medium heat combine sugar, water and honey.  Stirring until sugar has completely dissolved.  Allow to cool slightly
2)      Using a good blender or food processor, combine the cooled sugar/honey mixture, lychees, coconut milks,  ginger, zest and juice of the lime, vanilla and salt.  Blend until smooth.
3)      Pour mixture into a covered container and allow to cool completely in refrigerator – about 1 hour.
4)      Pour ice cream base into frozen ice cream drum and follow the manufacturer’s directions for your particular ice cream machine.
When finished, garnish each serving with a sprinkling of the grated ginger, chopped mint and toasted coconut.
*To toast the coconut simply spread shredded or shaved coconut onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil, in a single layer.  Toast in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes OR you can do this in a large skillet on your stovetop.  Just don’t walk away, no matter which method you use, the coconut burns quickly.

Some Lychee Trivia:
Lychee is the sole member of the genus "litchi" in the Soapberry family.  It is a sub-tropical fruit born of Evergreen trees native to the Guangdung and Fujan Provinces of China.  Now these monstrous trees are cultivated all over the world, India, South Africa, Vietnam, Thailand even California and Florida.
The delicate whitish pulp is encased in a pinkish-red prickly rind, which is NOT edible.  The taste of the fruit is sweet and rather perfumy.  Think watermelon and strawberry.