Friday, August 21, 2009

simple is as simple does: figs with key lime sugar

I like to cook. Most who know moi, know that. But what they may not know, is that although some of my cooking might appear complex or involved, my favorite form of cooking involves simplicity. Find fresh ingredients, pair them with simple, but unique flavors, and make something interesting and worthy of sharing. Desserts are meant to be shared, this is why we like them so much, they typically involve sharing with others.

Back to simplicity. Thomas Keller can cook and his food is interesting. It has a certain simplicity if you focus on the individual steps instead of the outcome. That's one of the keys of french cuisine in which Keller if profoundly steeped. Cusine français can appear to be, and is some cases be, quite complex, but primarily the complexity arises from the subtle layers and interplay of simple ingredients.

One of my favorite chef has always been Jacques Pépin, who some may know as mentor to Julia Child, has always been one of my favorite chefs primarily because he's very grounded in the reality that cooking food is foremost sustenance, but it must also taste good and look good. Pepin was a 3-star Michelin chef in France before he become one of the first tv chefs. There was Child, Pepin, and that goofy, galloping, Scot gourmet, Graham Kerr. Since then, there seem to have been thousands of tv and celebrity chefs most of whom know a lot more about makeup than they do about plate presentation.

My friends also know they can hardly talk me into making dessert anymore and when I do I usually resort to tricky. Here's a good one that's marvelous slight-of-hand. It owes it existence to my 3-year quest to make the world's greatest limeade (still perfecting this one) and it's very simple (almost).


For this you will need.
Fresh, ripe mission figs. A ripe fig lasts about as long a ripe peach and is almost as tasty. You'll need 3-4 per serving.

Some cream from a real honest-to-goodness dairy. There's lots of them. I prefer Shatto Farms because the cream comes in little glass bottles that make, among other things, a perfect flower vase.

Key Lime sugar. This is the hard part. But it keeps well. And since it's a bit tricky, make a larger batch. You'll find many uses for key lime sugar (some I'll share later). Zest (you'll need a special zester for the key limes because the peel of a key lime is very thin) and zesting 4 dozen key limes is no picnic. As the zest collects in a bowl cover it with finely granulated organic cane sugar. Once you're finished, you'll have a coarse meal that about the consistency of shredded coconut. Four dozen key limes can season a pound of sugar. Immediately place the sugar in a glass jar and seal for several weeks. The lime zest will candy and the sugar will obtain a wonderful aroma that rivals that of Madagascar vanilla bean sugar. You have to stir the sugar occassionally to keep if form solidifying into a mass. If done right, you should be able to spoon it easily when finished. If you really wanted to gild the Lily you could add a hit of vanilla bean to the batch. Resist that urge!

Quarter the figs. Place in a dish. Freeze a stainless steel whipping bowl along with the whisk. Whisk the cream until it begins to thicken and then add a couple of tablespoons of the key lime sugar. Whisk until soft peaks form. Let stand refrigerated for an hour or so to allow the lime zest to better flavor the cream. Rewhisk as needed and then add to the quartered figs.

Options. None recommended but you could garnish with candied ginger in very small amounts. Biscuits, i.e. shortbread would work well. Raspberries. Chocolate, milk or dark.


Anonymous said...

I spent a summer with Graehme Kerr, that was one crazy ass aussie.

We were 14 and going into our sophomore years in High School. Me, my buddies George and Tom, swam on a nationally ranked swim team in Ohio. We had practice from 6:30a until 9:30a, taught swimming lessons until 11a, and then went to the grocery store got eggs, cheese, a gallon of milk, juice, bread, bacon, went to George's house and cooked a huge meal, while we cooked and ate, we watched Graehme Kerr cook and drink. Then we went to another pool and swam from 3p until 5p. We learned alot from his cooking show.

His wife was the director and every show they would start with explaining the dish and announce the appropriate wine pairing. His wife would open the wine and he would get a goblet full. The half hour, the bottle of wine, and the recipe all finished together. The dish and Kerr were cooked. It was completely madcap. Every once and awhile there would be a double half hour show because of a the complicated recipe. Twice as much showtime meant twice as much wine, and by the end of the hour Graehem would be dropping kitchen wares, wandering into audience, and slurring. Opened a whole new world for us.

Pepin was the best chef of the three and is the heart and soul of modern french cooking. His is the food I was taught by my parents to use as the measure of cuisine.

Child filled in the blanks of all those things you should have learned, but missed, in the kitchen from Mom or Dad or grandma or your auntie, who taught you the joy of cooking.

Graehme Kerr made cooking fun and funny. If the recipe doesn't work, or the meat has been carbonized, or even if it's perfect, it will always wash down better with wine.

Anonymous said...

Kerr invented the Molded Ethnic Vegetable, an idea he thought would make him the next vegetarian Ron Popeil. Instead, MEV galloped away and we are better off for it having done so.