The frigid weather has me thinking about traveling and living elsewhere. I spent 10 days on the west coast, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco promoting Bitter. Victoria was rainy, but a lot milder than Toronto. I went crazy tweeting photos of daffodils and camellias in bloom as it was only the end of January. However, I’m not sure I could live on an island and endure the continual grey skies.
Vancouver was my next stop where it was clear, sunny and around 12C, positively balmy after Toronto. I admit the view of the mountains and the ocean make it special, although I’m not sure I could put down roots there. Seattle has many of the same charms, mountains and water, however it was San Francisco that stole our hearts this trip. I stayed with friends, who make great martinis, so that swayed my judgment plus I arrived to perfect weather; sunny, warm 23C, and clear, not always the case in early February. This time the city reminded me even more of my birthplace, Australia. There were eucalyptus trees everywhere and wattle trees in flower, like the one pictured here.
I consider wattle a quintessential Australia flower, although acacias now grow around the world. You see them in the south of France and they’re called mimosa. I’m headed back to Australia for a few weeks going from -30C to +30C, it will be quite a shock to my system. I won’t see any wattle in flower, it’s the end of the summer down there, but I will see flowers, feel the warmth and be able to go out without wearing long underwear, boots, gloves, scarf and heavy winter coat. I can’t wait to have my morning coffee on my friends deck.
I’ll also do a little promotion for Bitter so check out Books for Cooks I’ll be there in March. Mostly I will be soaking in the heat and dipping my toes into the warm ocean water. I can’t wait.
I’ll try to post if I can manage on a mobile device, in the meantime feast your eyes on the wattle. And for all of you stuck in the north east of North America remember that one day spring will come…… it will.
This photo was taken by my friend and photographer Rob Fiocca.
You’d be forgiven if you threw your first blood orange out, I nearly did. I remember my surprise on cutting it open, the flesh was so dark and blood red that I was sure it was bad. I squeezed the juice anyway and with my first sip understood why these oranges are so special. The dark, wine coloured juice is less acidic than a regular orange juice, with raspberry and cherry overtones that give it a rich and complex flavour.
The blood orange, is a Mediterranean mutation that most likely occurred in the seventeenth century Sicily. The colour comes from the presence of anthocynanins, or red pigments. The amount of this pigment varies with the variety of orange, the season, and where it grows. Mild nights and cold days help develop the red pigments, and while varieties like the tarocco are just flecked with colour, others, like the moro have dark flesh and a red tinged skin.
The most famous blood orange is the Arancia Rossa di Sicilia sold individually wrapped in colourful papers. In 1996, this orange was granted an “indicazione geograficia proteta” or IGP, similar to the French system of AOC “appellation contrôlée”. This designation restricts the area where the oranges can grow and regulates their size, sweetness, and taste. They are available from Christmas until late spring. Primarily an eating and juice orange, you can use them in any recipe that calls for oranges. They are an essential ingredient in the maltaise sauce, a delicious variation of hollandaise sauce often served with asparagus.
A good blood orange recipe for this time of the year is
Veal Shanks with Blood Orange & Fennel
This a recipe from my book Bones. Fennel and orange are a delicious combination and match well with the veal.
Four 4 to 5 cm thick pieces of veal shank
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons beef fat, or olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
250 ml veal stock
2 blood oranges
1 large fennel bulb, with leaves
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 5 x 2 cm batons
250 ml blood orange juice (from about 3 oranges)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
2 garlic cloves, peeled, germ removed and finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Pat the veal dry and cut completely through the membrane surrounding each veal shank piece in two places. Tie a piece of string around each shank to hold the meat in place while it is cooking. Season with salt and pepper.
In a large Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the fat over medium heat. Add the veal and brown on both sides, then transfer to a plate. Pour in the vinegar and stock and bring to a boil deglazing the pot by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Remove the pot from the heat.
Remove the zest, from 1 orange, in long strips taking a little of the pith and add them to the pot; reserve the orange. Return the veal shanks to the pot, with the wider end of the bone facing up. (This helps keep the marrow from escaping.) Cover with a damp piece of parchment paper, then the lid, and braise in the oven for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the feathery leaves from the fennel; set aside. Trim any coarse stalks or outside layers. Cut the fennel lengthwise in half then slice each half into 5 mm slices.
After the veal has cooked for 45 minutes, add the fennel, carrots, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered with the paper and lid for another 45 to 55 minutes, or until the veal is very tender and the vegetables are cooked. Transfer the veal, fennel, and carrots to a serving platter. Remove the strings from the veal and keep warm, loosely covered with aluminum foil.
Discard the orange peel and bring the cooking juices to a boil; boil hard for 5 minutes to reduce the sauce. Meanwhile zest the remaining orange and place the grated zest in a small bowl, with the fennel seeds. Remove the pith from the 2 zested oranges and cut them into segments. Add the segments to the sauce and check the seasoning. Keep warm.
Finely chop the reserved fennel leaves. Add the fennel leaves and garlic to the fennel seeds and mix. Serve the veal and vegetables with the sauce spooned over and pass the orange gremolata separately.
I am very attached this lemon tree. It has a difficult life here in Toronto sheltering inside during the winter months when the temperature can drop -20C and snow lies on the ground, and spending the short summers on my deck where it’s a magnet for bees. It flowers in the summer and again at Christmas filling the house with the fragrance of lemon blossoms. Now, in deepest winter, it’s covered with sunny orange, yellow fruit that cheer up my kitchen and my mood.
It’s a Meyer lemon tree and you can read all about these lemons here, thanks to to the talented Russ Parsons. I grew up with Meyer lemons in Australia. There is a large tree in the middle of my mum’s backyard, and it is still producing a huge bounty of fruit. We would never bought a lemon, and were always looking for ways to use them up, we made dozens of bottles of lemon cordial. My mum still drinks freshly squeezed lemon juice every morning. The Meyer lemon is much less acidic, almost sweet when compared to other lemons, it has orange genes. For the cook, its fragrant, aromatic peel is its best quality.
You don’t have to grow you own, these lemons make their way across the continent from California and you’ll find them at your local market now. Winter can be cruel, but it’s also the best season for citrus fruits, so cheer yourself up by buying some and realizing that is is warm and sunny in somewhere in the world.
Here is simple recipe to try –
250 ml whipping cream
125 ml grappa
400 g pasta
125 ml coarsely chopped fresh chervil or parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Peel 1 lemon carefully removing the skin and pith. Dice the lemon. Zest remaining lemon, set aside zest, then juice to obtain 2 tablespoons of juice.
Put large pot of water on to boil. In a large frying pan combine cream, grappa and diced lemon. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently, stirring occasionally until thickened slightly. When water boils, add pasta and cook until al dente, then drain. Remove cream mixture from heat and slowly add lemon juice. Return to the heat, then add half the zest, drained pasta and chervil. Toss, add remaining zest and season. Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls.
I love this fruit, but I only discovered it a couple of years ago, thanks to a friend who ate it in restaurant then emailed me a photo. He told me you could eat the whole lemon. And so you should, this is not a juicing lemon.
There is very little flesh, the lemon is mainly pith and, it is not bitter at all. It is delicate and almost sweet. There is a little bitterness in the peel that balances it.
It’s a cédrat or citron and it’s commonly turned into candied peel. I prefer to eat this lemon as a salad. I thinly slice it then dress it with good quality olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. It’s that simple and so delicious that I haven’t tried it any other way. Any suggestions?