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There was a time, when I was much, much younger, that mayonnaise was on my relatively short list of reviled foods. How things have changed! Like an arachnophobic who gets over a fear of spiders through repeated exposure, the more I dabbled in mayonnaise, the more I grew to like it. My conversion was complete upon trying my own hand at the homemade stuff, when I realized most of mayo you buy in jars is but a poor imitation. ( If you missed the story the first time around, you can read it here.)

Soon a sandwich was nothing without mayo. It replaced ketchup for my fries, and I discovered the limitless dips one can make with a bit of mayo and sour cream. All was well, and then I made another discovery that rocked my world.

Aioli.

Garlic mayonnaise.

And I’m not talking about the kind in the squeeze tube, found on supermarket shelves, another poor substitute for the real thing. I mean a veritable , traditional garlic aioli, made with a mortar and pestle and some elbow grease. It is a garlic mayonnaise that transforms the dullest fish, is heavenly next to a bucket of frites, and de rigeur in certain French dishes like Bouillabaisse or the fish stew called Bourride.

Le Grand Aioli is the name of a dish composed of salt cod, hard boiled eggs, and squid cooked with a variety of vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and green beans accompanied, of course, by aioli.

To develop the fullest, most pungent flavor, the garlic should be pounded in the mortar with the egg yolks before beating the oil a few drops at a time, as you would when making a regular mayonnaise.

This recipe if from Anne Willan’s wonderful book The Country Cooking of France.

Aioli – Garlic Mayonnaise


Ingredients

Makes 1 1/2 cups/ 375 ml – Serves 6-8

2 egg yolks

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or more to taste)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (more to taste)

salt & white pepper

1 1/2 cups/375 ml olive oil

Directions

1) Put the egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a mortar. * Pound with a pestle until the mixture becomes lightly thick–about 1 minute.

2) Beat in the oil gradually, a few drops at a time, until the mixture begins to emulsify and thicken considerably.

3) Transfer to a small bowl and continue to add the remaining oil in a thin, steady stream while stirring constantly with a whisk. Do not add it too quickly or the mixture will separate.

4) Taste and adjust the seasonings if required.

The mayonnaise should be thick enough to hold a spoon upright. It can be covered and kept in the fridge for up to twelve hours, but should be brought to room temperature before serving or it may separate.

*If you do not have a mortar and pestle, whisk the mixture in the bowl to start and use freshly pressed garlic.

blueberry

In my personal mythology I am a graceful creature. I glide into rooms, move with the fluid ease of someone who is comfortable in her own skin; someone with elegance and poise. But the truth of the matter is, I’m actually a bit of a klutz. Okay, maybe not just a bit. I’m a terrible klutz, as anyone who knows me well can attest to. Miraculously, I’ve never broken any bones, but my skin is always bruised from bumping into furniture, my skin marred with the scars from more than a few burns. As it happens, food always plays a starring role in my mishaps.

I’ve ruined many a white shirt with blueberry or wine stains. My cupboards are full of sets of dishes missing pieces I’ve dropped on the floor. My hands, even my arms (don’t ask!), bear burn marks from my battles in the kitchen. It’s not that I don’t do my best to be careful, but because timing is so crucial while cooking, I can go from methodically and contemplatively chopping ingredients for a mirepoix to frantically trying to do three things at once. This is usually when accidents happen.

On Saturday, I was really looking forward to cooking dinner for my friend T. and had happily set aside the afternoon to work through my menu: lobster pie, strawberry and spinach salad, blueberry crisp. I knew things were not going to go well when I cut my finger chopping onions for the pie; within a space of an hour I also dropped a Pyrex measuring cup on the ground and cut my toe on one of the splinters.

Cooking can be a dangerous craft. I once contemplated a career as a chef–for about five minutes. I don’t have the physical stamina that is required for a life in the kitchen. Besides, I’d probably accidentally set my hair on fire or cut off my pinky.

So for now, I’m happy to write about food and cook for my family and friends, accidents notwithstanding. Because what’s a little cut or two compared to the satisfaction you get when you’ve made something truly wonderful and have made people you care about happy?

Individual Blueberry Crisps

bluecrisp

I like to make crisps in individual 4-inch ramekins. They’re so pretty and easy to serve this way. You can make any kind of crisp you like with a couple of cups of chopped fruit and a crumbling of oats and brown sugar. Be sure to use rolled oats, not the quick cooking kind, or you will end up with a soggy mess. I chose blueberries, not only because they’re in season but because their tangy sweetness are the perfect foil for this crisp, buttery topping. Serve with a dollop of whip cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4

Loosely adapted from All Recipes

Ingredients:

2 rounded cups blueberries

3 teaspoons white sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/3 cup cold butter

Directions:

1) Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss the blueberries with the white sugar and lemon juice in a medium bowl and set aside.

2) In a separate bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cut the butter into cubes and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork until crumbly. Butter the ramekins and press half the mixture into the bottoms. Fill each ramekin with the blueberries.

3) Sprinkle the remaining topping over the berries. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the blueberries are bubbling.

 maywisk

In my quest to become a better cook I’ve realized that I need to become a better eater.  These days I’m eating out a lot less and cooking a lot more–wholesome, fresh foods, mostly classic Mediterranean dishes.  Although I wouldn’t say my diet is particularly low-fat (neither is the Mediterranean diet) it is pretty healthy.  In my efforts to eat in a way that is eco-friendly and focused on natural ingredients, I try to avoid foods that come packaged in plastic, boxes or jars as much as possible.  Except for a few Asian condiments, the only bottles I stock in my fridge are mustard and mayonnaise.

The fact that I’ve had mayo in my fridge lately is nothing short of amazing. For as long as I can remember, it was high on my list of yucky foods.  Texture is rarely a food issue for me, but there was something about the wobbling, gelatinous consistency of mayonnaise that turned me off.  It took me back to brown bag lunches in elementary school.  My mother liked me to have a hot lunch, and she often packed a thermos with soup or spaghetti for me.  On the days she prepared a sandwich, she would spread mayonnaise on the bread and stuff it with ham and vegetables.  By lunchtime the warmth inside the classroom turned the smear of mayo into a thick, clear film.  The bread looked like the lard sandwiches consumed by certain Eastern European relatives. Needless to say, I went hungry on sandwich days.

blender

 

I’ve read that the more you are exposed to certain flavors, the more you may come to like them.  I think this is true.  Case in point, I used to hate cilantro.  But cilantro is one of the most commonly used herbs on the planet.  It finds its way into everything: salsas, chutney, curry, and countless other dishes from China to the Middle East to Latin America.  Lately, the strange, soapy taste of cilantro is starting to appeal to me.  It’s the same with mayonnaise.  I’ve started to use it on my sandwiches and in salads.  I even dip my french fries in it–something I was once horrified to witness European people do at a restaurant in Amsterdam.

On Saturday night I was about to make a dip for a dinner party and discovered that the bottle of mayonnaise in the fridge was seven months past its expiry date (evidently I’m not loving it that much).  Up to my eyeballs in food preparation, I didn’t feel like zipping over to the store, so I decided to make my own.  I had never made mayonnaise.  It was one of those things that seemed impossible to pull off, like souffle.  Since it also doesn’t keep that long, I thought making it was unnecessarily laborious, like grinding your own spices or baking bread.  Armed with a blender, an egg and some olive oil, I found making your own mayo is a snap.  And it tastes heavenly.  So much better than the store bought stuff.  Bewitched by the fresh, lemony taste, the creamy, supple texture, I am now a homemade mayonnaise convert.

 mayowood 

Here’s how you do it:

 

Homemade Mayonnaise

Ingredients:

1 egg

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3/4 to 1 cup of olive or canola oil (or you can mix the two together)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 

Put the egg, lemon juice, and mustard in a blender.  Add a bit of salt  and pepper.  Process until combined.

With the motor running, pour the oil into the egg mixture very slowly through the hole in the top of the blender.  It must come down in a thin, steady stream or it will not emulsify.  Process until thick and creamy.  This might seem to take awhile, but don’t worry.  As long as you add the oil slowly, the ingredients will come together beautifully.

If necessary, add more salt and pepper.  For variation, you might want to add more lemon and chopped herbs like chives, parsley or dill as an accompaniment to vegetables or fish.

Homemade mayonnaise can keep up to a week in the fridge, but its best when fresh.  If you’d like to make a smaller batch, use three-quarters of a cup of oil instead of a whole cup.  You can use up to one cup of oil for each egg.

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