Saturday, August 10, 2013

Our New Home

To visit our new website, JUST CLICK ON THE BOX ABOVE and you will be taken to  Over the next weeks we will be hosting some book give-aways to show our appreciation for your support!

Monday, August 5, 2013

DWTS: Latin Night at Home & Avocado-Pistachio Loaf with Lime Glaze and Cilantro Ice Cream

“From Len . . . . . . a Ten!”  That’s just how good this dazzling use of avocado turned out to be.

By now the California Avocado Commission has educated most that avocado is a fruit and not a vegetable and can be used for something other than guacamole.  While California would surely like to take credit for this wonderful produce, the avocado is actually indigenous to south-central Mexico and originated over seven millennia ago.  The avocado migrated to California in the 1870’s when Mexican trees were successfully introduced in Santa Barbara.  California now produces about ninety percent of the nation’s avocado crop with the Haas variety accounting for ninety-five percent of the total. 

The inspiration for my recipe was “Avocado Toasts,”  which turned out to be toasted bread with avocado smeared on top of it and consumed like a tartine.  Tasty but mundane.  Sous Chef was unimpressed and thought it seemed a waste of good guacamole.  So he challenged me to put my own spin on making Avocado Toasts.

My response was “Avocado-Pistachio Loaf with Lime Glaze” accompanied by Cilantro Ice Cream.  Avocado, cilantro, and pistachio form a sort of green holy trinity.  Avocado and cilantro have a harmonious layer of grassy flavors, but the cilantro’s brightness helps cut through the buttery fat of the avocado.  The pistachio is a versatile nut and provides texture against the richness of the avocado.  A bite of this version of “Avocado Toasts” first brings forward the fruity nuttiness of the pistachio, then the subtle avocado flavor starts to make its presence known, highlighted by the drizzle of lime glaze.  The Cilantro Ice Cream compliments the flavors of its mates and rouses the palate from any lethargy caused by the richness of the avocado. 

This dish satisfies your sweet tooth, with a little bit of sassiness thrown in.  Kind of like “Latin Night” on Dancing with the Stars.”  It starts out just as you would expect and the next thing you know someone has lost their shirt (hopefully Gilles Marini or Maksim – he’s usually good for several shirtless numbers a season –although Sous Chef is undoubtedly rooting for it to be one of the scantily clad female dancers).  If you are literal like Sous Chef, and must respect the toast label, then by all means toast the loaf slices.  Sous Chef grabbed his trusty cast iron skillet, cranked up the heat, tossed in a slice, and got a nice bit of crustiness for his efforts.  He proclaimed toasting the slice added further dimension and flavor to the dish.


This sweet and savory dessert is a great way to spice up your entertaining.   Pair it with a tequila-based cocktail and you might just have a Latin dance party in your dining room. 

Avocado - Pistachio Loaf with Lime Glaze adapted from Que Rica Vida recipe

1 large avocado
2 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chopped pistachios, plus a 1/4 cup for the top of the loaf
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Grease bread loaf pan (5x9) and set to the side.

Puree avocado, butter, sugar, egg and buttermilk in a food processor or Vitamix until smooth.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder together, and add to the avocado mix.

Mix the flour mixture and avocado mixture together until combined.

Add in 3/4 cup of chopped pistachios to mixture and slowly mix in.

Pour mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow loaf to cool.

Once loaf is cooled, mix powdered sugar and lime juice together until smooth.Drizzle lime icing over the top of avocado loaf and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of pistachios. 

Cilantro Ice Cream adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Warning:  Makes approximately 2 cups.  Double recipe for ice cream afficionados.

1 cup packed cilantro leaves
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks

Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan.  Prepare ice bath while waiting for water to boil.  Once water is boiling, blanch cilantro leaves for approximately 10 seconds, then immediately drop drained cilantro into ice bath to shock it.  Remove cilantro and squeeze very tightly to remove any excess water.

Place cilantro in Vitamix or blender.  Puree on high speed with 3/4 cup combination of milk and heavy whipping cream until the cilantro is very finely ground.

In a saucepan, warm the remaining milk and heavy cream.  In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs yolks.  Slowly pour warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Place egg yolk/milk mixture back in the pan.  

Using a strainer over pan, pour cilantro mixture into egg yolk/milk mixture.  Once combined, heat mixture to medium and continue stirring until mixture can coat the back of a spoon.  

Strain mixture into cold bowl resting in ice bath.  Continue stirring until mixture is cool.

Refrigerate mixture until completely cooled.  Place mixture into your ice-cream maker and follow instructions.

Friday, August 2, 2013

"It's All Greek to Me" - Tzatziki & Other Musings

“It’s all Greek to me,” muttered Sous Chef as he poured through the menu of a quaint taverna on the esplanade in Katakolon, Greece.  While he may have been joking in his inimitable fashion, we were indeed living the Mediterranean lifestyle for a few hours:  al fresco dining under a bright blue canopy, water lapping just behind our table, soft breezes carrying the aroma of grilled delicacies and the Mediterranean Sea, and an unobstructed view of our cruise ship in the background. 

The best Octopus we've ever had is on this table
Somehow the grilled octopus disappeared...

It’s been a few years since our first-ever cruise which took us through the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas to visit, if briefly, such historic sites as Corfu, Mykonos, Athens and Katakolon.  The cruise ship ordeal was forgettable, and our last if Sous Chef has anything to say about it, but the culinary and cultural experiences of the Greek Isles were not and remain deeply entrenched in my cognitive and olfactory senses.  This week’s “French Fridays with Dorie” challenge roused those senses to the point I could almost smell and taste our meal at the taverna in Katakolon:  fresh grilled octopus, warm pita slathered with house made Tzatzaki, and chilled Greek white wine.  Opa!, the staff shouted in greeting when we arrived, and Opa!, we exclaimed when departing that most wonderful culinary adventure.

Stands the test of time

Mediterranean cooking is based on the straightforward use of the best and freshest local ingredients.  Simplicity and freshness are the name of the game, and nothing embodies these qualities better than the ubiquitous Tzatzaki which is intended as a condiment for all courses of a meal.  Versatile and refreshing, and perfect for the dog days of August, it can be used as dip with crudité or pita or as a sauce or accompaniment with chicken or lamb.  Dorie’s recipe is delicious and true to tradition, although she dices the cucumbers instead of shredding or grating them as some recipes instruct. 

I often dream of sitting here

One of my favorite ways to enjoy Tzatziki is on a pita, with sliced grilled chicken breast, juicy tomatoes, avocado, and red onion.  It is simple, it is fresh, and it can be enjoyed equally for lunch or dinner.  If you are taking a stay-cation this weekend, travel to Greece by renting “Shirley Valentine” or “Mama Mia, “ and mix up a batch of Tzatziki to nibble on through the movie.

Chicken Pita & Tzatziki
Serves 2

2 pieces of pita
2 grilled chicken breasts sliced into strips (a great way to use leftover chicken)
1 tomato sliced thinly
¼ cup diced red onion
½ avocado diced
½ cup Tzatziki

Warm the pita.  Spread a generous layer of Tzatziki over the pita.  Place two tomato slices on the Tzatziki and top with the sliced chicken breast.  Garnish with the red onion, avocado, and dollop of Tzatziki.

To read more Dorista’s experiences with Tzatziki go to “French Fridays with Dorie.

Stark white architecture set off by a splash of color

A little "facelift" at the Acropolis

Emerald Green Water surrounds Corfu - James Bond forgot to pick me up

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The French Paradox & Dieter's Tartine

Periodic makeovers are necessary for any diva.  A freshening of the wardrobe, make-up and hair—maybe even a little attitude adjustment-- is needed at least once a year, but preferably seasonally as the weather changes.  A diva cannot get stale; nor should her website.  So that is why Confessions of a Culinary Diva is getting a make-over.  My stylist is the talented Evy Hanson, owner of Leap Online Marketing , and she is helping me create a new and vibrant website that will embrace my varied interests.  Confessions of a Culinary Diva will have more lifestyle content as I share with you travel and restaurant recommendations and experiences, culinary and travel book and product reviews--trust me the  Vitamix is worth the money and I will tell you why-- fashion tips, and things to do if you find yourself in Southern California, particularly the Palm Springs area.  The new website should be up and running soon, but in the meantime let’s continue our culinary journey through Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.

”Diet” is a nasty four letter word that makes me cringe and conjures visions of unpalatable food, miniscule portions, and cardboard packaging.  While it is something I should be doing, a diet is a grim prospect for someone who adores cocktails, wine, cheese, bread, cream, and butter.  Imagine my surprise when this week’s “French Fridays with Dorie” challenge was “Dieter’s Tartine”.  Tartine and diet used in the same sentence – a bit of an oxymoron in this day and age when bread, gluten, wheat and just about anything we enjoy should be purged from our diets. 

This recipe falls into what I classify as the “no recipe needed recipe.”  Just grab a fresh loaf of French bread and a few fresh veggies to dice.  Slice the bread and grill or toast it.  Spread on some fromage blanc, crème’ fraiche’, sour cream, or cottage cheese.  And top with diced veggies–-cucumber and tomato are recommended--along with a sprinkling of herbs and chives.  You decide which veggies and toppings to use and, Voila!, lunch is served.

Whether on a diet or not, the Dieter’s Tartine is sublime.  Not only is it easy to make, you may delude yourself that this is actually a “diet” food Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem might endorse.  After all, fresh veggies are a main component to the toppings that are slathered onto a piece of grilled, crusty, country-style French bread.  Fortunately, the French have a sensible approach to “diet,” with moderation not elimination being the key element.  So I declare this French dish to be so salubrious that it must be accompanied by a glass of chilled, crisp, dry rose from Provence.  The French Paradox minus the cigarette should be observed to get the full effect of this “diet” food.

To learn what other Doristas think about the “Dieter’s Tartine,” visit French Fridays with Dorie.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Bumbler & The Beast - Norwegian Wolffish

From my perspective, it was a matter of beauty and the beast, although the beast part was not readily apparent from its packaging and beauty is always subjective and sometimes fleeting.  From my sous chef’s perspective, it was a matter of the bumbler and the beast.

While rummaging for swordfish in the frozen foods section of Trader Joe’s, I came across one of those “special” TJ foods that often pique my curiosity.  You know the kind:  something totally unknown or, at best, vaguely familiar, but marketed by TJ to sound intriguing, adventuresome, and edible, if not delicious. 

Does anyone know a good dentist?
 Alas, TJ had no swordfish (which I could not believe since I normally wade through piles of it when looking for other fish), but it did have spotted Norwegian Wolffish (Anarchichas Minor) that, according to a TJ stockman serving that moment as an enlightened fishmonger, would be a good substitute.  The package he handed me had an appealing label that showed the Wolffish in profile (clearly its best viewpoint as the photos demonstrate) and identified it as having meat that was white and firm and a taste redolent of lobster, crab, and shellfish.  Plus it can be cooked in a number of ways:   baked, fried, grilled, poached, steamed or sautéed.  It all sounded good to me, so Norwegian Wolffish would stand-in for swordfish in this week’s “French Fridays with Dorie” cooking experience.       

Julia handled Monkfish much better than I do Wolffish

Not your average lap pet

According to TJ and other online sources, the Norwegian Wolffish is a sharp toothed, cold water fish whose flavor derives from its diet of shellfish, such as mussels, scallops, sea urchins, and crabs.  Norwegian Wolffish is known to reach lengths of up to 7 feet and weigh up to 40 pounds.  Their fang-like teeth are part of a rather stout head and large mouth, all the better to dislodge mollusks and crustaceans from their familial homes on the rocky bottoms of near freezing deep waters like the Barents Sea above Norway or to dismember the fingers of careless fisherman.  Despite its dental and facial shortcomings, the Anarchichas Minor variety is quite fashionable with leopard-like spots on its scale-less, silky-smooth skin.  Armed with two fillets of this beast, I strode from TJ’s determined to make a dish worthy of Dorie’s praise.

This week’s recipe from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan is very simple:  sautéed or grilled swordfish served with an herb salad tossed with a splendid Dijon vinaigrette.  This is something that can easily be whipped up after a long day at the office and gives the impression that you are eating light and healthy.  And for those who used swordfish or did not suffer a culinary brain cramp, it probably was all those things Dorie intended.

Looks can be deceiving 
Out of necessity, inquisitiveness, or downright contrariness, I often substitute ingredients, usually with good results.  But my experience with Norwegian Wolffish reminds that there are a number of universal cooking guidelines that should always be observed.  First, make sure that what you substitute does not compromise the integrity of the recipe.    Second, check cooking times and methods for the substitute since they may not be the same as for the original.  Third, when defrosting frozen fish, follow the instructions on the package.  If there are none, at least take it out of its original packaging, pat dry, place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.  Defrosting in the original packaging causes the fish to absorb lots of unwanted and likely unpleasant liquid.  Fourth, when you want fish to have a crispy skin, dry the skin first, cook in a hot pan, add the fish to the pan skin side down and, using a flexible spatula, press on the flesh until the fillet flattens out (this makes sure all the skin is in contact with the pan), and don’t flip back and forth, just let it cook on the skin side until the last couple of minutes when you can finish on the flesh side.   

Rafa is looking for a better recipe and instructions
I most certainly violated guidelines two, three and four.  Guideline Two:  Dorie’s recipe calls for a seven minute sauté whereas TJ’s recipe calls for twenty minutes baking in the oven.  I sautéed for seven minutes and it was not enough.  Guideline Three:  I defrosted overnight in the airtight packaging and the fish was swimming in liquid the next day.  Guideline Four:  I cooked the fish flesh side down for the most part.  The result was a tough, slimy, unpleasant looking skin, an undercooked fish with areas that looked and felt gelatinous, and none of the succulent flavors of lobster or other shellfish that I was craving.  Lesson learned and I will give the Norwegian Wolffish another try.  At least the salad was excellent.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kitchen Therapy - A Glass of Rose' & Savory Clafoutis

Gallup has recently confirmed what everyone knows:  70% of us don’t feel positively about our source of daily bread.  And by that they don’t mean our local bakers but our gig, our grind, our old 9-to-5.  The best thing about a vocation is a vacation, but an avocation can lead to many pleasurable hours and experiences.

As a culinary diva, food and beverages are my avocation, a status I would upgrade to vocation in a blink if I could thereby support sous chef and me.  That seems unlikely, however, so I pursue my passion in many ways:  restaurants, bars, wineries, farmers markets, food blogs, and the like.  Yet perhaps my favorite pursuit is cooking.  Not the sweaty, neurotic kind of cooking done in a restaurant or the frenzied kind of cooking for dinner parties or large groups.  But the serene, agreeable experience of trying new recipes or crafting old ones in clever and delectable ways, all in the comfort of one’s own kitchen.  What a great way to unwind after a day of drudgery—and it certainly does not hurt to have sous chef provide me with a glass of chilled French Rosé before the cooking begins (and refills as it proceeds). 

My sous chef and I love the challenge of using a favored dish as a platform for other dishes.  There is something about the inventive use of familiar fare that is fundamentally rewarding.  I would be pleased as punch to be known as the “MacGyver of the kitchen,” so I was thrilled that the sweet, luscious Cherry Clafoutis I wrote about in June can easily be turned into a savory delight.  I took the base recipe for Clafoutis, omitted the sugar, exchanged heirloom cherry tomatoes for the cherries, and added some fresh basil and cubed cheese to the mix.   The result was a Savory Clafoutis that can be served on its own as a first course, as a side to a brunch, or as a light lunch with an herb infused salad. 

The combinations and permutations for the little Clafoutis are seemingly endless.  Crave some pork fat:   just add bacon or pancetta.  Feeling Greek:  combine olives and feta with the tomatoes and garnish with some freshly diced cucumber and dill.  Fromage lover?  Go for it!  The base Clafoutis is the perfect canvas for mild to strong cheeses to shine.  Heck, why not have a Clafoutis party?  Fix up a batch of Clafoutis batter and let the guests add their own ingredients to make them sweet or savory.  

Savory Clafoutis


4 eggs
¾ cup of sugar
Pinch of salt
Scant ½ cup ground almonds
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
7 Tbs creme fraiche (can substitute sour cream)
 7 Tbs Buttermilk (or regular milk)


1 container Mini Heirloom  Tomatoes
1 cup diced cheese of your choice
2 spring onions diced
Chopped fresh herbs of your choice

Bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour 6-8 ramekins or one 7 ½ by 4 inch baking dish or pan.  (I used bread crumbs that I had seasoned with garlic, black pepper and sea salt, in place of flour in the ramekins.)

Place tomatoes evenly across bottom of the prepared ramekins or dish.

Whisk the eggs with sugar and salt until pale yellow and thick. Sift and fold in the ground nuts and flour, then stir in the crème fraiche.   Add cheese, spring onions and freshly chopped herbs.  Make sure the ingredients are well mixed.

Pour or ladle the batter over the tomatoes, place the ramekins or dish on a baking tray, and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Interested in reading more experiences with Cherry Clafoutis?  This week the Dorista's over at French Friday's with Dorie have a gaggle of experiences to read about.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hemmingway, Daiquiris and Me

It’s summertime, and the living isn’t always so easy.  There are weddings, graduations, picnics, family reunions, and holidays.  To best negotiate these treacherous waters, one often needs an adult beverage or two.  Ernest Hemmingway may have had this is mind when he said “I drink to make other people more interesting.  [There are some who attribute the quote to George Jean Nathan, but there is no doubt Hemmingway said “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.”]  While I never sanction drunkenness, public or otherwise, and advocate moderation in all things culinary and alcoholic, a sophisticated cocktail or two is not such a bad thing to help one get through a summertime ordeal.

Papa Hemmingway knew a thing or two about cocktails and a lot about surviving the summer heat.  So when I read about one of his go-to drinks from La Florida Bar in Havana, Cuba, the temptation was irresistible.  While there seems to be some confusion about the origins of the “Hemmingway Daiquiri,” this much is agreed.  It originated at La Florida Bar in the 1930s; it is not the same as a “Papa Doble,” the name given to Hemmingway’s version of La Florida’s standard daiquiri that resulted from his tasting the standard and saying he did not like sugar and it needed more rum; and the version below evolved over several years, as is evident from comparing the 1935 and 1939 editions of the La Florida Cocktail Book. 

Hemmingway’s affection for this cocktail makes sense.  It is adventuresome, bold, straightforward, refreshing, and easy to quaff.  And while not for the faint of heart, it is just perfect for the long, hot days of summer we have here in the Coachella Valley.  So make a Hemmingway Daiquiri, grab a copy of A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises, and enjoy a summer’s afternoon in the pool or under an umbrella.  As Hemmingway so aptly said:  “Drinking is a way of ending the day.”

Hemmingway Daiquiri - from Vintage Cocktails by Assouline

Serves 1

1 oz. white rum
1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur (not Maraschino cherries - I prefer the Maraschino Liqueur by Luxardo)
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
3/4 oz fresh lime juice

Place all ingredients in cocktail shaker.  Shake all ingredients and strain into a small cocktail glass.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Other Boleyn Cake

I lost my head over this cake.  Fortunately, my loss was merely figurative, whereas the inspiration for the cake’s name literally lost hers. 

It is rumored that Henry VIII named a particular cake containing almonds the “Maids of Honour Cake” after seeing Anne Boleyn and her ladies-in-waiting eating them.  Henry became so fond of these cakes that the recipe was locked away in a chest in the Richmond Palace.  During the 18th Century, the recipe was obtained by a Richmond bakery which thereafter made the cakes available to the public.  Today the cakes are frequently used at teas and as wedding favors.  They can still be found at:

Since the original recipe for the “Maids of Honour Cakes” seems to be under lock and key, there are many variations to it – including one from Emeril.   The following recipe is courtesy of Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchens for whom I am a recipe tester. 

The combination of almond and lemon is much used in baking as almonds help smooth the lemon’s sharpness in cakes and tarts.  There are two different flavors to almond – bitter and sweet.  The bitter almond has hints of mild, milky grass when raw, and when roasted a richer flavor with a slight toffee-popcorn flavor.  The bitter almond is what you taste in extract, essence and Amaretto.  Sweet almond has a soft, rounded flavor that makes them highly compatible with other ingredients.  Almond is used also to boost the flavor of other nuts, so if you think you taste almond in your pistachio ice cream you are probably right. 

Here is an updated version of what I will call “Ladies Who Lunch Cake”.  It is moist and light, with rich almond flavors.  The topping has a delightful surprise of citrus and delicate crunch.  Serve with a little Champagne and this may become one of your most requested recipes.

Ladies Who Lunch Cake – America’s Test Kitchens

Serves 8-10

1½ cups plus  cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
¾ cup (3¾ ounces) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1¼ cups (8¾ ounces) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
¾ teaspoon almond extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
⅓ cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. 

Grease and flour one 9-inch round cake pan, line bottom with parchment paper.

Place almonds, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in food processor or Vitamix and pulse until almonds are finely ground, 5 to 10 pulses.  Transfer the almond-flour mixture to a bowl.

Place eggs, 1¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, and extract in the now empty food processor or Vitamix and process for 2 minutes (go smoothly up to 5 on the Vitamix).  While the food processor or Vitamix is running, add the butter and then add the vegetable oil in a steady stream.  Once processing is finished, add the almond-flour mixture and pulse 4 or 5 times until the mixture is fully combined.  Transfer the resulting batter to the prepared pan.

Using fingers, combine in a bowl the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and remaining ½ teaspoon of lemon zest until fragrant (approximately 5-10 seconds).  Sprinkle this sugar mixture evenly on top of unbaked cake batter and then sprinkle on the remaining ⅓ cup almonds.

Bake approximately 55 to 65 minutes, until center of cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Pan should be rotated 180 degrees after 40 minutes.  Transfer pan to the wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, run a paring knife around the sides of pan to loosen.  Remove cake from pan, remove and discard the parchment, and let cake cool completely on the rack for approximately 2 hours.  Cut into wedges and serve.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lazy Day Strawberry-Tomato Soup Shooters

For most Americans, the 4th of July means friends and family milling about the sweltering backyard while the BBQ chef stands weepy-eyed, beer in one hand and tongs in the other, peering through the smoke at a grill full of charring animal parts and by-products.  Here is a quick and easy way to add some interest and zest to this most iconic holiday.   

I love recipes where no cooking is involved, preparation can be done the day before, presentation is simple, and clean-up is quick and easy.  A Strawberry-Tomato Soup Shooter meets all these conditions.  There is no cooking involved;  it is served chilled and benefits from an additional day’s maceration; ; it is properly served in shot glasses, but bistro wine glasses or soup bowls are acceptable; and clean-up is a breeze.  Serve this and watch your guests’ smile with pleasure at your culinary ingenuity. 

Strawberry-Tomato Soup Shooters

Prep time 10 minutes
Serves 15 shooters/or six first course starters

1 cup diced canned tomatoes, including liquid
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
½ pint fresh strawberries hulled (stems removed)
2 Tablespoons fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
1 cup diced watermelon
¼ inch wedge of peeled, sweet onion (can omit if you don’t like onion)
1 small peeled garlic clove
1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (can get at Cost Plus very reasonably)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup chilled white wine (use a wine you would drink)

 Place tomatoes, tomato paste, strawberries, basil leaves, watermelon,  onion, garlic, brown sugar, white balsamic vinegar, and salt into blender or Vitamix and secure lid.

Start at lower speed and gradually increase speed to medium or 5 on the Vitamix, blend for approximately 10 seconds until smooth.  Turn machine off.

 Add wine and start at low speed (two on the Vitamix) and blend for approximately 3 seconds.

Can be served immediately or chilled up to one day for maximum refreshment in hot summer months.

To serve – 15 2-oz glasses
To garnish – small basil leaves and/or wedges of small strawberries or grape tomatoes if desired

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Cherry Amour

The Fourth of July is fast approaching, so what better way to celebrate France’s vital contribution to our independence from England than by consuming copious quantities of Cherry Clafoutis. While I am not certain George Washington ever enjoyed this dessert concoction, my sous chef and I do so regularly, particularly during summer.

 This dessert is lusciously light, can be prepared ahead of time, and is sure to be a crowd pleaser. The cherries have wonderful notes of tangy sweet--sourness and hints of tobacco and tannic tea that match well with the sweet, buttery flavor and whiffs of cocoa found in the hazelnut. Cherry pits and bitter almonds form a compound that is second only to vanilla as the most popular flavor molecule in the United States’ flavor and fragrance industry. So feel free to substitute almonds as an alternative. In France, Cherry Clafoutis is served with the pits in the cherries so the cherries do not stain the batter. This could make for some dangerous eating, so I recommend removing the pits from the cherries unless you are an expert at the Heimlich maneuver or a dentist in need of patients. And if you insist on going French, don’t forget a bowl for the pits! Your guests will appreciate your thoughtfulness when they are trying to figure out where to discreetly dispose of the pits.

 This dessert has become one of our house favorites, and is sous chef-approved to serve to guests.

Cherry Clafoutis

 4 eggs
¾ cup of sugar
Pinch of salt
Scant ½ cup ground hazelnuts (can substitute almonds or pistachios)
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
3 ½ Tbs mascarpone cheese*
3 ½ Tbs sour cream*
 7 Tbs Buttermilk (or regular milk)
12 oz. pitted fresh cherries

 *can use crème fraiche as a substitute
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Butter and flour 6-8 ramekins or one 7 ½ by 4 inch baking dish or pan.

Place cherries evenly across bottom of the prepared ramekins or dish.

Whisk the eggs with sugar and salt until pale yellow and thick. Sift and fold in the ground nuts and flour, then stir in the mascarpone cheese and sour cream (or crème fraiche). Make sure the ingredients are well mixed. 

Pour or ladle the batter over the cherries, place the ramekins or dish on a baking tray, and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Served warm or cold, this dessert goes well with a dollop of cream, crème fraiche, or ice cream and a garnish of chopped fresh cherries.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Last Capon

Our last meal together was a capon.  During the holidays, we like to make a few singular repasts, things you don’t have every day (such as truffles) or which are part of traditional holiday meals.  Capon is an Italian holiday specialty that I was eagerly looking forward to making.  Last year, I prepared Bleu Chickens that Sasha went nuts for – she watched the oven for the entire roasting cycle-- and I expected the same enthusiastic response when I ordered an eight pound capon from D’Artagnan.  But our little Sasha had become a very finicky eater of late. She began rejecting standard fare for more urbane platings.  We first thought this was because her ever-sophisticated palate had become even more discerning, which may have been partly the case, but the hard reality was the cancer had spread.  However, it was easier to live in a Fantasyland and imagine she was secretly working for the Michelin Guide or Peter Mayle, rating the food her masters’ provided, and giving anywhere from four paws up to no paws at all. 

The produce at Chino Farms accompanied our  holiday dinner

The last few months were about our little girl, and treasuring every moment we had with her.  When we cooked, we did so to please her, to find things she enjoyed and would eat, and to create some special memories for our little family of three.  Cooking for blogging purposes wasn’t important.  But let’s get back to the Last Capon.

 A capon is a rooster that has been castrated – not a very romantic description, but factual, and something I occasionally wish upon my sous chef.  Due to castration, the bird lacks a bit of sex hormones, making it  milder tempered and easier to handle.  Because of this hormonal imbalance, and by not aggressively playing the role of Chief Rooster, the meat becomes more tender and fatty, resulting in a less gamy taste than the typical rooster or hen.  Since a capon is larger than a chicken but smaller than a turkey, with supple, moist breast meat, it is the perfect alternative when you are craving turkey but are a small family and don’t want the leftovers for the next week.  This is a special meal, the kind you savor, and memories are made from.  Not special in the fancy pants, show off sort of way, but the made from love kind.  When our Sasha went to Doggie Heaven on Christmas Eve, we hope she took with her thoughts of a scrumptious Last Capon

The Last Capon – Adapted from Golden Oven Roasted Capon, Tyler Florence
Prep Time – 50 Minutes
Cooking Time – 2 hours 20 minutes
Serves 8
1 whole (8 pound) capon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened (this is to rub the capon with herb/butter mix – so don’t melt)
2 lemons, cut in half, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (Meyer lemons work well)
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs, such as tarragon, thyme, rosemary or savory (can use dried if needed)
A large handful of fresh, whole herbs, such as tarragon leaves, thyme and savory sprigs (if you can’t use fresh herbs, then substitute dried in a an amount you deem appropriate)
1 onion, cut in half (don’t dice, splice or julienne – just cut in half)
4 garlic cloves, smashed (again, no fancy knife skills required)
2 cups water
1/4 cup sherry
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and rinse the capon under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season the body and cavity of the capon generously with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the butter, lemon juice and chopped herbs. Rub the herbed butter all over the capon. Put the lemon halves, onion, garlic and whole herbs inside the bird. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine to help hold its shape.  (Note:  some capons have a bib of skin that will hold the legs together when placed in bib.)

Place the capon, breast side down, on a V-rack in a roasting pan. When the capon is cooked on a rack, it  helps make its skin crisp and keeps it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Pour water into the roasting pan; this helps prevent the fat drippings from burning and smoking.

Roast the capon for about 20 minutes, then carefully turn the bird over breast side up. To do this, take the pan out of the oven, close the oven door to maintain the temperature, and rotate the capon while the pan sits on the counter. Baste the capon all over with the pan drippings. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees F and return the pan to the oven. Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees to 170 degrees F, count on this taking about 2 hours. Remove the capon to a platter, cover with foil and let stand for 15 minutes so the juices settle back into the meat before carving.

Meanwhile, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a gravy separator or measuring cup to let the fat rise to the top. Skim and discard the fat and then return the pan juices back to the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium heat. Add the sherry and deglaze, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with the capon. (If you are not a gravy fan, like sous chef, skip the gravy and just dig into the bird.)

The rainbow the morning we lost Sasha - I guess it was waiting for her at the end of it