Monday, January 31, 2022

Passionfruit Mousse Recipe

I make this tartly sweet, tropically creamy mousse any time I have a flock of passionfruit within reach. So, usually Cape Town in summer (and then it is a grenadilla mousse!). But January is passionfruit season in Brooklyn, thanks to Chinatown and the Little Caribbean, and magical boxes that arrive at the door, from California.

Passionfruit Mousse

Serves 8 

You do not have to strain the passionfruit seeds out (in which case skip the food processing part). I strain from force of habit: My father used to crunch every single seed, instead of just slurping each mouthful down. It drove me nuts. But I digress. 

Use a single jelly mould for a large mousse, or individual moulds if you're being fancy and giving everyone their own. An overnight chilling is helpful.

1 ¾ cups passionfruit pulp (from about 20 passionfruit), chilled

3 ½ teaspoons powdered gelatine

3 tablespoons water

3 cups whipping cream, chilled

5 oz sugar

Halve the passionfruit and scoop the pulp into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for about 15 seconds to separate the pulp from the seeds. Place a medium-mesh sieve over a bowl and strain the pulp through the sieve, extracting as much juice as possible. Reserve a quarter cup and chill the rest for two hours.

Heat the reserved quarter cup of passionfruit juice with 3 tablespoons of water in a small pot. When it is hot (but not boiling) turn off the heat and sprinkle the gelatine onto it, swooshing the juice around to cover and soak the granules. Stir to make sure there are no lumps. When the mixture is perfectly smooth, whisk this gelatine-juice into the chilled juice.

In a large bowl whisk the cream until it thickens slightly. Add the sugar to the cream and continue whisking until the cream holds soft peaks.

Pour the passionfruit juice into the whipped cream, then fold rapidly using a spatula to blend the mixture well. When no bright yellow juice remains at the bottom of the bowl, pour it into your jelly mold/s. Cover, and transfer to the fridge. Chill until it is set (three hours, minimum).

To unmold, slide a butter knife carefully around the edge of the mousse. Dip for about 4 seconds in a bowl of extremely hot water (too long and the outer layers will melt). Invert onto a flat serving dish and shake hard. You should hear a satisfying plop as releases. If you don't, turn it right way up again, run a hot knife around the edges of the mousse, and repeat. Chill until needed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Suppers, lost and found

Forgotten suppers, found. The light isn't pretty and just means I didn't adjust the white balance - lazy photographer. It's softer, in person.

When you cook every evening, it's easy to forget some good things. Photos help. These are from my still-daily hour of downloading and sorting images from Memory Stick No. 1 (No. 2 is still waiting in the wings; I don't know who's more nervous, it or me). I've made it to November, 2021.

Naturally each digital file (photo) records the date and time a picture was taken. This helps me cross-reference with my calendar and with any digital recipe notes I may have made. 

So in the picture above I see pork chops. And then I have to think. What's on them? Zoom in and it' currants (yum), field garlic, and I see something else - please tell me I wrote this down. Turns out I did, sketchily. And that this was the evening of a day I'd led a walk for 15 people, with a six-course tasting picnic. One of the picnic snacks had included a confit of black trumpet mushrooms. And the mushrooms I did not use went into the pan sauce of black currants and sweet clover for the pork chops. Phew. It was delicious. (If you're wondering, the currants were frozen. I keep little stashes in reusable bags for quick deployment.) I think the bowl on the left contains a celeriac remoulade: grate the peeled celeriac, mix with mayonnaise and mustard: done.

And still November, and again after a walk: an old favorite: Chicken pieces roasted with tomato, potato wedges, lots of lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and rosemary. About an hour at 425'F.  Truffle cheese.  And salad. Always salad.

And look, the candles are fresh.


Saturday, January 22, 2022

The mushroom month

On a frigid January day I look at last October's pictures as I sort and edit. 

It was a remarkably good month for mushrooms. October always means hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa, and often referred to as maitake, the Japanese name for them), and it reached a point where I would just have to ignore them and walk past. I had enough. They are one of the easiest edible mushrooms to identify and a lot of fun to spot, fruiting at the base of hardwoods like oak (especially) and beech, and even cherry and sycamore. The specimens above (the brown frilly ones) were quite young and very tender - they can grow huge. We ate some freshly cooked, but most of them were frozen (after cooking) for later deployment in mushroom rolls, mushrooms pies, tarts, and probably some mushroom treats I haven't yet thought of. 

The other easy edible mushroom is right beside the hens. And it's a...chicken! Bright orange chicken of the woods (Laetiporous sulfureus) is exciting to find because it can be prolific (see previous post for an example). It has much, much less mushroom-flavor than hen of the woods, and can be quite dry, unless it is very young. But it is a very useful filler, and I think we ate this one in a dish of delicious dirty rice.

And boletes, as the capped mushrooms with spongy tubes - instead of gills - are known collectively. I was pleased to find a trove after teaching an edible plants class at the New York Botanic Garden. I generally peel off the sponge and then slice the caps very thinly. These were saute├ęd to top toast.

Late October was lush on the little terrace, with the prickly ash already beginning to turn yellow, the  sesame leaf (Perilla) almost four feet tall (beside the birdbath), cold-loving brassicas already in the windowboxes, the myoga ginger making is aromatic little edible buds, the citrus trees catching their last outdoor breaths before temperatures dipped too low, and the balloon milkweed filled with its late-season, prickly balloons.  

The gardens downstairs are now brown and empty. On the frozen terrace the milkweed has been cut back, the sesame leaf plants are dead sticks. The citrus trees are basking in southern sunlight (but indoors), and the myoga has just woken too early from a two-month dormancy, under my drawing-desk (I shouldn't have watered it).


My Books

Monday, January 17, 2022

The wild and the tamed and the diverting

From the photo files, where I am making progress, in terms of sorting, some tidbits:

Last October, in a shoreline forest on Long Island, we found a very wonderful chicken of the woods log. We took home plenty and some of it is still stashed (after cooking) in the freezer for picnics to come. The mushroom works very well in portable hand pies.

These nasturtium capers were from green seeds I collected in my mom's Cape Town garden in February 2020. I lacto-fermented them with 2% of their weight in salt for about 20 days, then pickled them in a vinegar-brine. Here, they were nibbled on the October 2021 terrace, atop a petite Martini. They are rather good. (And I brought back a new batch, a couple of weeks ago; nasturtiums grow like weeds in that Mediterranean climate.)

Last year I bought two tea plants. I clicked a mousepad, and a few days later they were at the door. They are Camellia sinensis, and they bloom in autumn. Their buds began to open in October and the small, anemone-like flowers are lovely, lasting about two days. The little shrubs kept blooming right into winter. On the cold branches in January there are still buds, and the leaves look dark and healthy. I collected many new green shoots which I dried, and at some point - soon - I must grind them to make my very own green tea, or matcha powder. I have no idea if I like green tea. I shall find out. 

The plant in the background, lower left, is another sort of tea if you like common names: labrador tea, a species of Rhododendron. It should bloom in April, if all is well. 

And you never know. All may be well. And if it isn't, we'll make another plan.

I'm also here, @66squarefeet

Friday, January 14, 2022

What was, may be?

In freezing January it is helpful to look back at scenes of another life lived, just a few months ago. I am still sorting photos dating back to the middle of last year, and here are some good - and occasionally perplexing - moments.

The aperitif - honeysuckle cordial and basil - sipped on the warm July terrace, with the book I just bought, written by a new friend, Serena Bass. We met through social media, before feeding each other at our respective Brooklyn homes. She is a chef and formidable cook (the two don't always go together, curiously), and a truly delightful human. One of the rare ones who makes you feel special, and consequently a lesson in How to be a Better Person.

This was really perplexing. Looking at the photo I wondered...what is it? Sour cream? With garam masala? What's the golden stuff? Was it a marinade for a grilled supper? I checked the date on the digital file, checked my diary, and found a forage walk. Phew. Checked my emails, discovered the menu for the walk and... Lilac honey, cream cheese, full cream yogurt and ground spicebush (Lindera benzoin fruit). So that took eight minutes. It's slow going.

For the picnic we spread it on persimmon focaccia. Under mighty tulip trees, in an old cemetery. A good memory today, with howling wind, and grey-and-white light.

Also in July last year the Frenchman and I returned to the Hudson Valley woodland paths where we had stumbled upon a trove of chanterelles, in 2019. This beautiful green place was unreachable for the whole of 2020, while a massive COVID-testing site mushroomed (sorry) nearby and all access was shut down. We felt very lucky to find them again, and we stocked up!

One of the meals I made with the chanterelles was this one, where meatballs studded with pine nuts cooked with the apricot-smelling mushrooms in a pan sauce of vermouth and cream, gooseberries and summer squash.

Summer means lilies. The Silk Road is statuesque, and I hope the bulbs will weather the very low temperatures we have just seen, and will experience again in a few days' time. They are very cold-hardy, but it's the frozen pots that pose the problem: the base freezes and prevents drainage. The bulbs can rot. Fingers crossed. They have grown in each of my four New York gardens.

The windowboxes undergo seasonal makeovers, which gives me an excuse to shop for plants. These pretty yellow hyssops (Agastache) came from the Gowanus Nursery, and replaced the hard-working Nemesias (which are a South African wildflower; it always makes me very happy to see them).

Nemesias out (the cut flowers saved and on the table), Agastache in. On the left the flourishing bay tree (now indoors until April). 


My Books

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A Taste of Procrastination

Japanese knotweed quick pickles, April

Back in Brooklyn from Cape Town, I am catching up on a lot of delayed freelance work (for Martha Stewart Living, mostly, and soon again for Gardenista), but there is another task that is long overdue: downloading and sorting about 3,500 images I shot last year. I know. It's something I should have set time aside for daily, but I didn't. Kyk hoe lyk jy nou, my father would say. Up that creek with a teaspoon for a paddle.

Feral asparagus, foraged in New York City

They are pictures of plants and food and foraging and gardening and animals and birds and seasons and flowers and tested recipes and food adventures and just of our lives, lived. All of them are potentially useful, some are an essential record, and all are still - dating back to about April 2021 - residing only my memory cards. That is terrible, and very insecure (should something happen to the cards). And very stupid. No back up. 

Peonies in the kitchen

So every day I bite off a chunk, for just one hour. It will get done. It helps that it is frigid January and that I am not adding - at least not wildly - to their numbers. Although I did just photograph my lunch. And breakfast. And the birds on the terrace. Oh dear.

The pictures here are just a fraction of images I looked at yesterday, and which made me smile to remember. 

This topping for pan-seared chicken breasts. Tell me I wrote it down. I know it's dandelion stems and anchovy. Plus a ton of caramelized garlic? Almost certainly lemon juice. I have a digital folder for the recipes I create. It's just called New Recipes, with sub-folders from 2017 to 2022, with recipes sorted by main - usually wild - ingredient, and almost always the name of a plant, or a mushroom. 2020's folder goes from Apples to Woodears. There's no dandelion folder. What is wrong with me? I almost always improvise when I cook and often something is so good and so simple that I'll think, Well, that was easy. I'll never forget that.


These were crisp vegetables that I had been lacto-fermenting for months. They became sweetly sour and kept their crunch. I piled them all onto a plate one warm May night with coriander and arugula flowers from our terrace, and added creamy burrata and olive oil, and dusted it all with pinches of cayenne. It was improbable, and delicious.

June Supper

And now I have an hour of photos to sort. If I want to escape for my walk before the 4.50pm sun sets.


Saturday, January 8, 2022

Up, and down again

A recent hike up Table Mountain with three friends was like a tonic. We met at 8am, and then began to walk. 

There are dozens of ways to climb up, and we chose Skeleton Gorge, on the cool western flank of the mountain, where you endure (endless) log and rock steps before climbing up (much more amusing) ladders and then scramble up boulders in the steep bed of a stream.

I love this route because it flattens for a spell, along the Smuts Track, above, and then allows you to choose to swing west along the Aqueduct, where disas, an endemic orchid, flower in summer. Watsonias dot the fynbos. Grassbirds and sugarbirds and sunbirds sing.

That's the Smuts Track in retrospect.

Photo: Marian Oliver

And the waterfall that never stops pouring pure, tea-colored mountain water. A good place to stop for a drink. 

Beautiful little drip disas (Disa longicornu) grow in the wet moss on the rock walls.

And after a downhill track you are in the kloof of the Disa River. We dipped, skinnily. It was freezing and wonderful.

And eventually it was down again, to the waiting world. This group of Belgian trail runners trotted past us at the top of Nursery Ravine. 

Clouds rose as we descended and the lower slopes were cloaked in a misty rain as we ended our walk in the early afternoon.

Next stop, Brooklyn.


Find me on Instagram @66squarefeet