July 9, 2004
Last Saturday, Maxence and I were invited to dinner by our German friends Christoph and Susanne. Christoph has been a faithful reader of Chocolate & Zucchini since the early days, we almost met at the Salon Saveurs last spring, and finally did meet at the first Paris Potluck about a month ago. He hosted the second one, but we couldn't be there (oh, just another glorious wedding in the South of France that we had to attend!), so he invited us again the week-end after, to make up for it.
Now, if I have one word of advice, this is it : if you are ever invited to dinner and Christoph is going to do the cooking, I don't care what your plans are, cancel them and go, go! or you just won't be able to forgive yourself.
Their appartment is strikingly beautiful and very cosy (they kindly let us snoop around to our hearts' content), with a cool little balcony. We had a splendid time, and Christoph the magician whipped out a string of delights from the kitchen, seemingly effortlessly. First, he jump-started us with frozen strawberry daiquiris served in tiny Duralex glasses (I have their twins at home and adore them). He then served us a herbed yogurt mousse, with crinkle-cut herbed potato chips -- homemade with the mandoline he got at Dehillerin's for his birthday, and of which I am zucchini-colored with envy. The main dish was a real masterpiece : lamb medallions, cooked very rare, artfully plated, served with two sauces -- one velvety, one whipped -- and sprinkled with caramelized pinenuts. A cheese platter followed, which included my new friend the banon, but in a much fresher and milder form than last time. Dessert was no less original and delicious : he made a sort of light mousse with whole strawberries in it, served in individual ramekins and baked in the oven. Coffee was served with squares of great Bonnat chocolate, and this was all washed down by two German wines, white and red, the names of which I unfortunately forgot -- but I trust Christoph will be able to tell us.
And while we were lingering over coffee, the conversation got to the subject of home-canning and jam-making. They had us taste one of the delicious syrups they made and bottled last summer, and Susanne brought out a jar of her Aprikose Berberitze jam, made with apricot and barberries.
I don't know about you, but barberries are new kids on my block : in French, they are called épines-vinette, or épines-aigrette, which are both very cute if you ask me. They are small, seedless red berries (latin name berberis vulgaris), which grow on little shrubs with yellow flowers. They have a sour and acidulated taste, so much so that birds won't even touch them. They are used in herbal remedies, but also in cooking, often in their dried form. They are popular in Iranian cuisine, fried in oil and added to cooked rice for instance. The ripe berries can be used, whole or smashed, in sweet and sour sauces (they shouldn't be cooked for too long), and they work well with game, in place of airelles or cranberries.
They can also be added to jams and jellies, like Susanne did, soaking them in Cointreau first. She offered that I keep the jar, I protested a little for good measure, then gave in lest she change her mind, and thanked her profusely : I just love homemade food gifts!
The very next day at breakfast, I happily opened the jar and was instantly smitten : this jam is the perfect consistency, nicely set but not too thick. It is a beautiful, richly orange color, sprinkled with the little shadows of the barberries, which are miraculously spread throughout the jam, and not a sadly sunk group at the bottom like one might fear. As for the taste, it's a successful mix of flavors, with the sweet summery taste of apricots spiked up cheekily by the little berries.
Apricot Blueberry Cobbler
Peach Apricot Compote with Red Poppy Cream
Soft Wheatberry Salad with Zucchini and Apricots