Saturday, March 15, 2008


Radish-Chive Tea Sandwiches and Sesame Cookies

I have been in a food funk for months now. Normally, I am inspired by what I read as opposed to playing around in the kitchen dreaming up dishes of my own. Sadly, I have been reading cookery books in a half-hearted manner, which is to say that I cast my eyes over the text but am not really absorbing anything. Part of the problem, though, is the produce - the same old fruit and vegetables for the most part, irrespective of their house of sale, whether a large or family-run greengrocer's or supermarket. As for the Auckland farmers' markets, well, there seems to be a lot of pre-made products for sale, presenting more of a food boutique than a celebration of farmers's bounty. I know that I should give it another chance, but I am doing the very depression-inducing thing of comparing what there is now to what was...I do miss the Long Beach and Santa Monica farmers' markets ever so much.

But I am not in Los Angeles anymore, though my heart is. Luckily my angelheart Eric and I will decide on the location of our abode some time this year, which gladdens me greatly. What also gladdens me is that my angelheart Eric knows of my great love for food but hasn't heard me talk about food a lot. This awareness of my condition (I first thought it might be a cyber-related ennui, but this does not alter the fact that I have not really been cooking for myself with any relish lately) has prompted my knight in shining armour to pick up the cause himself, immersing himself in the stack of food magazines that arrive at his door monthly and the food sections of various American newspapers (oh, how I miss the Los Angeles Times' unparalleled food section). Like all his offerings, my angelheart Eric came across something delicious and pure.

I don't typically prepare anything overly complicated, mostly because I easily stress myself out and can work myself up into a tizz over nothing, so the idea of making something simple was not necessarily lost on me. I have, however, found that I have spent much of the end of last year and most this year (almost one-quarter of the way through already!) straying from familiar flavour combinations. With my nose, tastebuds and interest in Middle Eastern, North African and Turkish cookery books, I have been quite content but have not made anything frequently so as to know it well - I understand this will come with time, but for now, when I want something of comfort, in this sea of grand cookery books cast before me there is no liferaft. Essentially, what my angelheart Eric found was a recipe that reminded me why I love food so much.

Radishes on their own are peppery in flavour and crunchy in texture. On a bed of sliced baguette, a compound butter of toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, fleur de sel, pepper and chives, the peppery-quality of the radishes all but disappears but their crunch remains, making for a simple, tasty and comforting mouthful. If you're in New Zealand, where traditional bakeries are few and far between, get the best baguette available (note: I did not say "afford," for sometimes even the priciest sticks that pass for baguettes are made with a standard bun mixture only shaped to look like a baguette, sadly lacking its characteristic toasted exterior). It is conventional wisdom that tells us to use the best of ingredients at all times, and this is imperative when working with so few ingredients.

Radish-Chive Tea Sandwiches
(from Bon Appétit magazine, April 2008)

Recipe is found on the Bon Appétit website.

This reminds me of a glorious Spring afternoon some ten or eleven years ago, when the magnanimous Marie-France and I took off in her little Renault to the countryside just south of Paris and marched through paddocks before finding one overlooking a goat farm. There we spread out a picnic blanket and ate the freshest produce along with home made goodies, such as pâté. Before then, it had never occurred to me that food could be simple and life-affirming, rich and tasty. The inclusion of sesame seeds and oil, here, only serves to round out the flavours, adding depth that is contrasted with the chives. If only my angelheart Eric could have been here with me to enjoy these elegant and simple slices.

If you're making these, you may as well keep the sesame seeds out and take a step in another direction to make these very simple cookies, which are crumbly, light, and a breeze to make.

Biscuits au Sésame
(Almost faithfully adapted from Kitty Morse and Danielle Mamane's The Scent of Orange Blossoms)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1/2 cup icing/confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
2 tablespoons cold water
cinnamon, to sprinkle on top

1) Preheat oven to 180 C/375 F.
2) In one bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.
3) In another bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, sesame seeds, icing sugar, vanilla extract and orange blossom water.
4) Add the flour mixture in thirds with the cold water in between the additions of flour. The idea is to have coarse crumbs.
5) Make rounded patties in your palms with approximately 2 tablespoons of cookie mixture. Flatten slightly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
6) Sprinkle cinnamon on top.
7) Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the cookies are light gold in colour.
8) Allow to cook and harden slightly on a wire rack.

If you leave the cookies in the oven for a bit too long, as I have done a couple of times, there is no danger; they just crumble more easily when you bite into them. I enjoy their lightness in texture and depth of flavour. They are perfect with a hot drink of equal ballast, such a strong, dark cup of coffee.

Simple food is never boring, and I have obviously needed this gentle reminder to get back into the swing of things. I will try my best to enjoy what there is on offer here and go that extra mile to understand what is available in New Zealand and when. Finding patterns and rhythms, as I did in Los Angeles, will ensure that I take care of and have pride for what I eat and share with others.

Bon appétit!

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You have been in a 'funk' indeed. You always come up with something easy yet unique
You have chosen one of the best ways I like to enjoy the crisp clean radish! I have been craving a good grown radish for months, as our supermarket only carries these things that are a red globe with their top cut off in a platic bag. To me that is NOT a radish. I even went so far as to plant some in a container hoping for that fresh taste. But...the radish gods were not with me. The green tops were beautiful and I was so excited, but on pulling if from the dirt - let's just say there was not much below the surface. So hopefully I will get to the mainland soon to find a good bunch of radishes!
I like the addition of chives!
I am thrilled to hear that you and your angelheart will be together soon! Will you be back in the United States?
I hope you full enthusiasm comes back soon, but in the meantime you are making unknown and delish things =)
Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Notebook, I hope you enjoy. The address is A hug.
I hope that soon, you and angel-heart, Eric will be together sharing the same space.
Hey Shaun! I've never cooked radish before. It looks extemely tempting though. your previous entry on Nigella Lawson is great. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I've been in a food rut lately, not having any energy to cook anything remotely interesting. =)
Shaun, those sesame biscuits with orange flower water are terribly alluring. I am envisioning them carefully stacked in a cake box tied with golden gossamer French-wire ribbon. Perfect for gifting.

And then there are those butter-slicked radishes...sharing a tray with cheeses and fruits. Lovely.
Anthony ~ Thanks for the continued support. I think my recipe-finding blinders are honed to extract combinations and applications of ingredients that are different to the everyday way in which I was raised. I'm glad you appreciate what I come across.

Deb ~ I, too, love a good crisp radish. Sometimes I sautee them, and I pretend that they are healthy fries.

We hope to be in the US together later this year. My angelheart Eric is coming to NZ very soon (counting down the days now).

Kelly-Jane ~ I feel the enthusiasm growing daily, now if only I had the time to spend days on end in the kitchen like I used to when I was a student!

Notebook ~ Welcome! It is always nice to see a new "face".

Cynthia ~ 2008 is the year that we will know where we're living. Either way, we know we'll be together somewhere and we'll be able to get on with the show. In the meantime, I'm planning our dream kitchen in my head.

Victoria ~ I understand the food rut situation. Glad to see you stop by even when you're not feeling like making anything yourself...Wish I could send some over.

Susan, lovie ~ Golden gossamer ribbon sounds like a perfect touch. It adds elegance to these cookies whose taste belies their simple appearance.

I could have eaten slice after slice of the radish-chive sandwiches...Only the carb-count stopped me. On a plate with cheese and fruit, though, I would have been too distracted to notice my in-take!
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