bitter foods for a sweet season: belgian endives bathed in butter

Christmas looks like it may be grey this year instead of white, but that doesn't make this season any less sweet. 
In the spirit of relaxing and celebrating, I'm taking off for a couple of week. I'll be ringing in 2015 in Myanmar, a country I know little about and a cuisine that I'm very excited to become acquainted with. 

But before I hit the road, I'll be eating rich roasts, fancy cakes, and indulging in the decadence that is Christmas. I'll also be bathing endives in butter, which I think that you should do too. There is nothing like a little bit of bitter to complement all of the season's sweets.
At the end of November Molly wrote about Belgian Endives Bathed in Butter, which I've made four times since. It sounds and tastes decadent and turns out to be the best way I now know to cook endives. 
 One time I ate the endives and their juices with quinoa. Another time with a fried egg. Another time I ate the leftovers straight out of the pan, using bread to scoop up as much as buttery, lemony, bitter liquid as possible. 
The recipe comes from Jennifer McLagan's Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor. She explains that since endives are mostly water themselves they should never be cooked in water. Instead they should be cooked in fat, lots of it. This is suiting since she is also the author of the cookbook Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient
The recipe uses lots of butter and just a little bit of fresh lemon juice to brighten things up. 
One of the times I made it I served it with duck confit and yellow beets. The fact that the duck was from my local butcher, pink on the inside and had crisp skin and that the endives were still the most delicious thing on the plate says everything. 
Think of this as a formula, and not a recipe. I've mostly halved the amount and it works just fine, although it yields less juice. In a pinch, I've also increased the heat of the oven so that it would be ready in less than two hours and that worked too. The recipe says to use an ovenproof skillet and to cook the endives in said skillet both on the stove top and then in the oven. I've done that, but I've also transferred them to a baking dish (as pictured) instead, which also works.

In other words if you follow this formula, you'll be well rewarded and pleased: Belgian endives + lots of butter + good salt + a little lemon juice + cooking them shortly in a skillet of hot butter and then roasting them slowly in the oven. 

Belgian Endives Bathed in Butter
from 'Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor' by Jennifer McLagan, via Orangette 
yields 4 servings
800 grams (1 3/4 pounds) Belgian endives (anywhere from 3-8 endives, depending on their size)
100 grams (7 tbsp) unsalted butter
coarse sea salt
2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice juice
black pepper
Preheat oven to 300F / 150 C / gas mark 2.
Use a damp cloth to wipe the endives. Discard any leaves that have gone bad and, if needed, trim the stem ends. 
Place an ovenproof skillet (one that has a lid) over low heat and add the butter. If you don't have a skillet with a lid or prefer to use a baking dish for when the endives go in the oven, warm the baking dish in the oven as it heat. Proceed with a regular skillet.
Once the butter has melted, increase the heat to medium and let the butter cook until it smells nutty and the milk solids have started to brown. While it cooks, stir it from time to time, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.
Add the whole endives to the pan. Season them with salt and turn them with tongs to coat them in butter. Cook until they take on some color on all sides. If you are using the skillet in the oven, remove the skillet from the heat and pour in the lemon juice. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for 1 hour.
If you are using a baking dish instead, remove the heated dish from the oven and use the tongs to transfer the endives to the pan. Pour in the liquids from the skillet and add the lemon juice. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven for 1 hour. 
After an hour, remove the pan from the oven and carefully flip the endives. Cover it again and return to the oven. Cook for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the endives are very soft and limp.
Before serving, taste the pan juices and add more lemon juice if you please. Serve hot with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Any leftovers can be kept in the fridge for a few days.
* * * * *
Illustration by Kera Till for Prantl
May your holidays be delicious and bright!


apple and cheddar: from snack to scone

My all-time favourite snack hasn't changed since I was about 4 or 5 years old: slices of apple topped with pieces of cheddar cheese. Some of the specifics have evolved - like white cheddar instead of orange and the older the better - but no other snack has ever threatened to dethrone it.

As much as I love the cheeses of France and the German Alps, a good aged cheddar will forever be my number one. You can take the gal out of Canada, but you can't take Canada out of the gal. 

Cheddar with a tart and crispy apple is as good as it gets in my book. This combination, however, can be dressed up to be a bit more interesting and sophisticated than the afternoon snack plate of a toddler. It can be the basis of a pie, a salad, and scones.

A couple of Decembers ago I wrote about ginger cookies and how I think that they should be eaten with blue cheese. Take this as proof that come cookie season, I'm craving cheese. Christmas baking is swell, but all the sugar and spice makes me want heartier baking, baking that is a bit more savoury.

These apple and cheddar scones nail both sweet and savoury. With a little extra sugar on top, the first taste is crunchy and sweet. Then you reach the bottom, which tastes like a frico. In other words, it is hard to just eat one.

You want the bottoms a little dark, not burnt, but dark. Like all scones, these taste best the day they are baked, but no need to worry: they won't be sticking around long.

I have a rather old fashioned kitchen, which means few appliances, so I made these by hand. If you have a food processor, certainly put it to work instead. 

The recipe calls for cutting the apples into small pieces once they've been cooked, but I kept them as chunks. It further plays up the contrasts of these scones: sweet and savoury, finely grated cheese, coarse chunks of apple. 

Apple and Cheddar Scones

adapted from Smitten Kitchen's take on 'The Perfect Finish'

makes 6-8 scones


3 firm tart apples (425 grams or a bit less than 1 pound)
195 grams (1 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
55 grams (1/4 cup) unrefined sugar, plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
85 grams (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, chilled
65 grams (1/2 cup) white cheddar cheese, grated
60 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 375 F /  190 C / gas mark 5.

Peel and core the apples and cut each apple into 12 slices. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly spread out the slices. 

Bake the apples in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they take on some colour and feel dry to the touch. Remove and set aside to cool, but keep the oven on.

While the apples bake, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture, either with your hands or by mixing/cutting it with two butter knives. Once the butter is the size of peas, use a spoon to mix in the sugar, cheddar and cream. Add the apple pieces and give it a good stir until it all comes together, but do not overmix.

Flour a clean counter top or large cutting board, and dump out the dough onto its surface. Flour your hands and pat or roll the dough into a circle that is about 3 cm (1 1/4) inches thick. Cut the circle into six to eight wedges, depending on how large you want your scones (I made eight).

Line the baking sheet with a new sheet of parchment paper and transfer the scones to the sheet, leaving space between them. 

In a small bowl, beat the egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the top of each scone with the egg mix. Sprinkle the two tbsp of sugar over all of the scones.

Bake until the scones are golden and firm, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Cool for about 10 minutes and then dig in.



a break from cinnamon: pomelo salad

The first Advent is now behind us and I'm doing a good job at celebrating the season by eating Lebkuchen at least once a day. My apartment is also accented with notes of red and green and so far I don't mind that the evenings come so early, as I've been lighting candle after candle. 

But I'm also taking breaks from all things cinnamon scented to celebrate the arrival of citrus season, specifically the biggest citrus fruit of all: pomelo.

Munich has excellent gelato and Lebkuchen, but good Asian food can be a little harder to come by. My recent interested in Chinese home cooking is one part fueled by how easy and fast it is (not to mention delicious), and another part fueled by how I much I miss Chinese food in Toronto.

But thank goodness for exceptions. Of all places, Munich happens to have a gem of a Thai restaurant. Tucked beside a casino and about the size of a standard North American bed, it gives new meaning to the expression hole in the wall. Seriously, I think that I've slept on mattresses larger than this restaurant, but clearly size does not matter. 

Manam it is called and I call it the best Thai food in the city. The women who run the kitchen aren't afraid of making their German customers sweat. The food is spicy, flavourful and full of soul. 

One of my favourites on the menu is the pomelo salad: Yam Som O. It is made with lemon grass, chili, shredded coconut that has been toasted, salty peanuts and fresh coriander. It is a nice light lunch for one, or a welcome side dish to share with a curry.

As much as I love Manam, I'm not always up for biking to the other side of the river and waiting in line to sit on a tiny plastic stool (although I admit that I am more often that not). Also, they close at 9pm, so I don't always have the choice. 

So inspired by Manam, I've started making pomelo salad myself. 

Pomelos range in colour, sometimes with pink flesh and other times with yellow. No matter the colour, it makes for a good salad. The possibilities are vast. Add some shrimp if you want a heartier salad. Add more herbs if you want more green. Use a shallot instead of red onion. Make it spicy, or keep it mild. 

Pomelo Salad

serves 2 as a main and 4-5 as a side dish


1 ripe pomelo, peeled and segmented
1/4 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp fish sauce 
1 Thai chili, seeded if desired and finely chopped
2 tbsp brown or coconut sugar
1 tsp chili sauce, such as Sriracha
1/2 cup coconut flakes, toasted
1/2 cup peanuts

 In a large bowl, toss together the pomelo segments, fresh mint, cilantro, lemongrass and red onion. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, chili, sugar and chili sauce. Whisk well until the sugar dissolves and then give it a taste, adjusting the seasoning as necessary.

Pour the dressing over the pomelo and toss well to mix. Top with peanuts and coconut flakes and serve right away.


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