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Archive for March 1, 2011

FOOD HOLIDAY: National Fruit Compote Day

It’s National Compote Day.

What’s a compote?

Compote de fruits, or fruit compote, is mixed stewed fruit. Compote de pommes or compote d’abricots is a single stewed fruit (here, apples and apricots, respectively).

Compote can be made from fresh or dried fruits or a combination, and can be served warm or chilled. It is a delicious dessert as well as a side dish (wonderful with poultry, ham and roast pork) and a brunch dish.

As a dessert, garnished compote with cream, whipped cream, ice cream (try a parfait) or crème fraîche. Plain stewed fruit is just as delightful.

We first learned to love compote at the knee of our grandmother, who loved to stew seasonal fruits for dessert—stone fruits in the fall, rhubarb and strawberries in the spring, cherries and apples in the summer.
 
COOKED FRUIT HISTORY

As a recipe, cooked fruit is as old as the invention of clay pots, which were needed to boil water. (The oldest fired clay containers were made in Japan between 10,700 and 8,000 B.C.E.).

The fruits were first cooked with honey. By the 17th century when sugar was more available, wealthier people switched to a sugar syrup.* Spices and other flavorings were added to the recipe (cinnamon, lemon zest, nutmeg, orange peel, vanilla), along with nuts and coconut. There are as many different recipes for compote as there are cooks.

Dried fruit such as raisins or prunes can be mixed with fresh fruit compote. Liqueur, brandy or other alcohol can be added (our grandmother was fond of Kirschwasser [cherry liqueur] or Grand Marnier [orange liqueur]).
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*Honeybees are far older than mankind, originating in Asia and migrating to Africa, then to Europe (Europeans brought them to America). See the history of honey. Sugar, also native to Asia, has been produced since ancient times; but due to the expense of extracting it, honey was most often used for sweetening.

 

Apple Cherry Compote

Compote With Cheese

Top: Apple-Dried Cherry-Walnut Compote from Ziploc. Bottom: Compote served with a slice of cheese instead of a conventional fruit and cheese course. You can also spoon compote over a baked Brie.

 
FRUIT COMPOTE RECIPE

Make some compote tonight!

  • SELECT. Pick three different seasonal fruits (we’re in-between seasons now, but apples, pears and mangoes are plentiful, and we’re adding some prunes for color interest and flavor variety). Peel and slice the mangoes (we retain the nutritious peel of the apples and pears).
  • COOK. In a large saucepan, cook 1 cup apple juice with cinnamon stick, cloves and/or other spices to boiling (if you don’t have apple juice, make a sugar syrup from 1 cup of water and the sugar).
  • ADD. Add the sliced fruit and 1/4 cup sugar or brown sugar, or half the amount of honey or agave nectar, and cook on medium heat until the fruit can be pierced with a fork (it’s up to you as to how al dente you like your cooked fruit). You can use less sugar and adjust the sweetness after cooking.
  • REMOVE. Remove from the heat; remove cinnamon stick. Mix in additional ingredients (zest, nuts, etc.) and serve warm or chilled.
  • DRIED FRUITS. If you’re making compote from dried fruits exclusively, cook in the hot liquid for 10 or 15 minutes; then turn off the heat and let the fruits sit in the liquid for 6 hours or overnight, until they soften.
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    You can also make a quick fruit compote in the microwave. Place ingredients in a covered microwave-safe dish for 2 minutes or longer, until your desired softness is achieved.

    This post is dedicated to the memory of our beloved Nana, who inspired us with her passion for great cooking and baking—and who served us our first compote.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Mandoline Slicer


    [1] A mandoline makes beautiful, ultra-thin, even slices (photo courtesy Microplane).

    Mandoline Julienne

    [2] Slicing perfectly even julienne carrot strips (photo courtesy Kitchen Expert).

     

    If you don’t have a mandoline slicer, it’s time to think seriously about getting one.

    A mandoline (man-doe-LEEN) is a kitchen utensil that makes thin, even slices, from juliennes to crinkle-cuts and waffle cuts. Even chefs with top knife skills use one to ensure the perfection of every slice. Very thin slices can be made very quickly with minimal skills.

    A vegetable, fruit, meat (think sausage), firm cheese or other food is slid along the surface until it reaches a razor-sharp blade that makes the cut. The process is repeated until the entire potato, carrot, etc. is cut.

    Perhaps most importantly, the item that is sliced is held by a safety food holder, to ensure that fingers aren’t julienned along with the potato.

    The bigger the holder, the better. The style shown in the photo, that looks somewhat like a brimmed hat, is the best. Mandolines that scare us have a flat plastic plate that fits in one’s palm.

    After trying some mandolines so flimsy that we were scared to use them, we’ve settled on the Microplane Adjustable Slider Food Slicer.

    The stainless-steel blade effortlessly slices cheese, fruit and vegetables, adjusting from paper-thin slices to 1/4-inch cuts. The handle is ergonomic and the feet are non-slip feet (not so with the feet of some other units—another scary factor).

    Get a mandoline and try your skill by whipping up a batch of paper-thin potato chips or sweet potato chips.

    MANDOLINE HISTORY

    According to Chef Harvey, the first known illustration of what became known as the mandoline was published in 1570 in a cookbook by no less than Pope Pius VI’s cook.

    The illustration shows a small board with a central cutting blade and perpendicular blades to cut vegetables into thin sticks.

     
    It is not named after the musical instrument: The modern version was invented in the late 18th century, but by whom is not certain:

  • One argument is for Marcel Forelle of Toulouse in the south of France, who named it after the mandolin because cooks would “play” the mandoline by going over the blades as a musician would go over the strings of the instrument.
  • Others credit Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the French physician who championed the use of the guillotine* around 1789 (for more humane beheadings). One could imagine him adapting that blade concept to the kitchen; but when we read that he named it ex-girlfriend, Mandy (source), the tale grows shaggy.
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    *He did not invent the device. Here’s the scoop.
     
      

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    ST. PATRICK’S DAY FOOD: Kiwi Cocktail

    For a special drink on St. Patrick’s Day, use a green slice of kiwi as a garnish.

    You can also muddle a kiwi and then add the spirits. Here’s a suggestion from Corzo Tequila:

    Ingredients Per Cocktail

    • 1-1/2 parts silver tequila
    • 1 kiwi, peeled, plus second kiwi for garnish
    • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
    • Ice

    Preparation

    1. Muddle kiwi in a cocktail shaker. Add other ingredients and shake well with ice.
    2. Strain into a Collins glass. Garnish with a kiwi slice.

    If you want the cocktail to be as green as the kiwi, add a sparse drop of food coloring. A little goes a long way.

    Find more of our favorite cocktail recipes.

    Beyond cocktails, think green garnishes for St. Patrick’s Day: herbs, green veggies, green condiments (gherkins, herb or wasabi mayo, wasabi mustard).

    Use green garnishes for St. Patrick’s Day.
    Photo courtesy Corzo Tequila.

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