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Pear and Blackberry Clafoutis

8 Jun

I find the human mind fascinating. The way a smell can trigger a memory has always seemed incredible. It’s really one of the reasons I like to cook and bake so much. Most of us know the comfort brought on by the aromas of our mothers’ chicken soup, tamales, or whatever favorite dishes might have graced our childhood home.

Music is another one of those triggers. Do you know The Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace tune?

Chantilly lace and a pretty face
And a pony tail hangin’ down
A wiggle in the walk and a giggle in the talk
Make the world go ’round.

While this song and especially the pronunciation of Chantilly have almost nothing to do with the small city town itself, it will forever remind me of the first time my lips touched the simple yet beautifully presented dessert known as clafoutis. my mother-in-law sang the silly song to Atticus the entire way to the Château de Chantilly and back to our Marriot rental in northern France.

At the end of our visit to the Chateau de Chantilly in 2010 (Chris, Atticus, Granddad, and Grammy)

I can also never forget the amazing creme Chantilly with which the subtly sweet clafoutis was served.

Creme Chantilly with strawberries. Yes, you really can eat this by the spoonful– it’s that delicious!

I’m convinced that the richness and heavenliness (I don’t even care if that’s not a real word) of the creme is directly related to the milk cows’ diet, and that I will never, ever be able to replicate it unless our little family moves to France. Sigh.

So, when I asked my co-worker Chrissy what she would like me to make for her birthday, she opted for something simple like a German pancake or a Dutch baby. I’ve like both, but I thought the clafoutis would fare better at room temperature for an in-office type of meal, plus the presentation would be a good one. And, actually it’s really easy. The most difficult, labor-intensive part is peeling and slicing the pears. Big deal!

Pear and Blackberry Clafoutis

Ingredients:

1 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 C plus 1 T organic raw, granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 T all-purpose unbleached flour, organic
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 to 3 firm but ripe Bartlett pears
12-15 blackberries, or enough to place sparingly over the dish
1 T powdered sugar, for dusting
creme Chantilly, whipped cream, or creme fraiche (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter a 10 X 3 X 1 1⁄2-inch round baking dish and sprinkle the bottom and sides with 1 tablespoon of the raw, granulated sugar.
Beat the eggs and the 1⁄3 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
On low speed, mix in the flour, cream, extracts, zest, and salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel, quarter, core, and slice the pears. Arrange the slices in a single layer, slightly fanned out, in the baking dish.
Pour the batter over the pears.
Then, gingerly place the blackberries throughout the top of the dish.
Bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is firm, 35 to 40 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and topped with whipped cream.*

* I strongly encourage anyone with a tested creme Chantilly recipe to fill me in on the secret!

Happy eating!

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My Favorite Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie

4 Jun

Christopher and I try to be healthy. We really do. In fact our latest health craze has gotten us into a big intake of fruits and leafy greens. Our own jumping onto a green smoothie revolution wagon– and we’re taking as many people as we can on that journey.

I eat this way, so that I can feel light and energetic and happy. I also eat this way because I want to be able to indulge in new and old favorites without the guilt.

So, the other evening, I revisited a chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe I had spotted several months back on the Apple a Day blog, and I gave the cookie my own little organic, slightly experimental twist.

I try to use as little refined sugar as possible in my desserts, and lately the only sweeteners I have had stashed in my cabinet of baking goods have been maple syrup, raw honey, and organic, raw sugar. The last two especially bring back memories of my childhood with my paternal grandmother– the smells, sounds, and tastes of early mornings and peaceful, star-filled nights at my Nina’s ranch in Baja, California. “Mi Nina” was a beekeeper, one of her many trades, and she readily used honey in the kitchen and to treat scrapes and cuts.

But, every evening, she would sit at her kitchen table, pour herself some coffee, and ask me to pass the sugar. Grainy, brown-ish sugar. When I became an adult, I started seeing the stuff advertised as Turbinado or raw sugar, but I had always thought of it as “Mi Nina’s sugar.” You know, the unrefined Mexican stuff that most of us gringos wouldn’t dare touch with a ten-foot pole.

A few years ago, I started using it as a substitute for white sugar, and for this recipe I’ve used it exclusively– even instead of brown sugar.  The crunch added to this chewy cookie makes me feel so giddy. I hope you enjoy it as much as Atticus, Christopher, and I do.

My Favorite Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Ingredients: 
3/4 C unsalted organic butter, softened
1 C organic, raw sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 C organic unbleached flour, sifted
1/3 C organic whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 C organic semolina flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 C bittersweet chocolate chips
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Sugar crystals will still be visible. Add egg and extracts and blend.
Mix in flours, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Stir in chocolate chips.
With a  tablespoon, drop dough onto a prepared, parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 7-8 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges.  (The tops will not brown, but do NOT bake longer than 9 minutes.)
Allow to cool 15-20 minutes on the baking sheet, then gently transport to cooling racks. Cookies will seem underdone, but they will be just perfect (at least for me) when completely cooled.
I would love to read about your favorite cookie recipes.
As always, happy eating!

King Cake and Rosemary-Sage-Garlic Bread

21 Feb

(You’ll have to scroll waaay down for the Rosemary-Sage-Garlic bread entry)

Working with yeast can be frustrating. It is definitely time-consuming. And, ultimately, it should be wonderfully rewarding. Honestly, who doesn’t enjoy a piece of fresh-baked, heaven?

This Sunday, our kitchen was overrun with labels featuring semolina, all-purpose, active, and other such descriptions. I worked hard, but I had so much fun. It was as if I were in the dark room again, transfixed by the ritualistic process and reaping the rewards as images came to life right before my eyes. I will always look back on those days in the photo lab with nostalgia and idealism; however, I believe I have found a worthy substitute in the kitchen– baking yeast breads!

Atticus was so excited to watch the dough "grow bigger, and bigger, and bigger, until it got gigantic, enormous!"

My co-worker, Chrissy D’Amico is originally from New Orleans, and she is my inspiration for the first recipe. You may or may not know that tomorrow is Mardi Gras. It just so happens we are also celebrating two birthdays in our office with a pot luck. (Yes, well, you might groan, but hold off on that for now.) It wasn’t the first time we had talked about King Cake. Chrissy had explained that in New Orleans people eat King Cake on Mardi Gras, although it is originally eaten on January 6th to celebrate Epiphany, much like the Rosca de Reyes is in Spanish and Latin American traditions.

And so, I decided to attempt a King Cake. I had never before tried to bake or eat one. She suggested a Food Network recipe. As usual,  I read that recipe, then obsessively looked around for more until I found a satisfying combination. My recipe most closely resembles the Southern Living Magazine’s King Cake recipe.

Southern Living Magazine’s King Cake

I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream for the bread; added 1/3 cup light cream cheese and orange rind to the filling;  substituted lemon rind for the yellow decorating sugar; and used a far less sweet cream cheese frosting for the glaze.

Like anything else, you can and should make this bread your own. Here is how it went for me:

Raw sugar and organic cinnamon for the filling

Orange rind for the cream cheese filling

I don’t usually advocate it, but punching can be fun.

King cake dough "before" and "after" rising

Punch the dough

 I think the process is rewarding enough, but I am strange that way.

Roll out to a 10-inch with, and as long as it can possibly go

 Any filling will do. Make it your own. Some people opt to use fruit fillings. Others use pecans.

Thin layer of cream cheese, orange rind, topped with cinnamon and sugar

Roll the dough and join both ends to form a giant ring. Don't forget to hide an almond, bean, or plastic baby at the bottom.

If you find the baby (or bean, as the case may be), you should throw the next party.

Rosemary-Sage-Garlic Bread

This yeast bread recipe is from a recent blog discovery– Alexandra’s Kitchen recently featured Rosemary Semolina Bread with Sea Salt from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery. The pictures in Alexandra’s blog are excellent and decidedly far too tempting.

I followed the recipe pretty well. I did, however, add roasted garlic cloves and shredded sage. Oh, and I brushed an egg wash with a sprinkling of water right before putting the bread in the oven, and repeated every five minutes during baking.

Just in case you are wondering– we could not stop eating this! Not one of us.

Roasted garlic to mix into the dough

One last thing– I made two very decent-sized coiled loaves. I don’t own a baking pan that would house either her original intention nor her actual execution of the shape.

This recipe calls for two different flours– all-purpose and semolina (or pasta) flour.

Pour the yeasty, bubbly, all-purpose batch into the grainy semolina mix.

I loved Alexandra's coil shape so much that I made two!

Happy baking and, as always, happy eating!

Emergency Heart Day Dessert: Buttermilk Pound Cake Muffins

15 Feb

We almost had an emergency on our hands yesterday.

Atticus, Christopher, and I (along with about three-quarters of the population, apparently) have been battling this mystery cold and flu for a few weeks now. Although Atticus and I are still functioning normally, Christopher has had the hardest time. I know that it’s because he does too much for us. He washes dishes, does the laundry, takes the little guy to school, and indulges my every whim. Oh, my. I’m started to feel kind of guilty.

I felt even worse when I received a phone call from Christopher on Valentine’s Day informing me that he was in the emergency room, under doctor’s orders. Without going into too much detail, I am relieved to report that an appendectomy scare turned out to be unfounded.

Basically, my multi-tasking husband has been ordered to rest and recover.

And, so I tried to take care of him the best way I know– I cooked and I baked.

I had had Mixed Bean and Lentil Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash on my mind anyhow, but now I needed  to think of a quick, comforting dessert. Something fool-proof. I remembered the batch of Brown Sugar Hot Fudge that I had prepared earlier with my mother-in-law’s treasured family recipe, so I swung by the market to pick up vanilla ice cream (Haagen-Dazs has a great five-ingredient ice cream, aptly named Five) and organic flour for my favorite pound cake recipe (also courtesy of my mother-in-law).

Brown Sugar Hot Fudge!

Usually, I’ll bake this perfect pound cake in a bundt pan, but that takes nearly one hour, so I decided to try something different to speed up the process– individual Buttermilk Pound Cake muffins! I got the idea when I spotted a box of so-called tulip baking cups in red, pink, and white.

Buttermilk Pound Cake

"Daddy, tell me a story." Atticus is simultaneously enjoying a muffin at the table and a story from Chris.

Ingredients:

2 c sugar ( I use raw unrefined sugar with great results)
1 c butter, room temperature
3 eggs

3 c cake flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

1 c buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream sugar, butter and eggs.
Slowly add flour mixture (with salt and soda), alternating with buttermilk about three (3) times, beginning and ending with flour.
Add flavor extracts.
Pour batter into muffin pan lined with tulip baking cups, almost to the top of the tin. The extra length on the baking cups should prevent spillage.
Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Under-baked is best with this recipe!

Pound Cake Muffins in Tulip Cups

If you use the traditional bundt pan for this recipe, be sure to grease or butter the pan liberally, dust with flour, and bake for 45-50 minutes.

Use a flour sifter or sieve to 'dust.'

May your days be filled with friendship, peace, and enough food to keep you going. Happy eating!
~ Isela, Christopher, and Atticus

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See You at the Market

8 Feb

“The market is fun, isn’t it?”
Atticus’ nod was barely perceptible. Perhaps he would have answered the nice lady, but he was seriously concentrating on eating that delicious, juicy tangelo without getting any of it on his mustard-colored shirt– a task that proved unsuccessful.

Saturday morning was the first time I felt like going out in almost a week.
I coaxed Christopher into making my first outing a trip to the farmer’s market. Atticus didn’t need much convincing. The little guy was quarantined just as long as I had been, and he certainly wasn’t about to protest going anywhere on a sunny February day.

If you have concerns about pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, go ahead and ask the vendors about them. These strawberries are grown in Fountain Valley and are a variety that gives fruit year round in So Cal.

After our first trip to the Irvine Farmer’s Market nearly two weeks ago, Chris and I agreed that we just had to head back for a closer inspection. It’s one of the best we have visited, and the other plus is that it’s in our new neighborhood! Okay, so maybe I get a little more excited about the market than other people, but maybe the images below can help put things in perspective. I’ve included a few tips that I hope you’ll find helpful.

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Did you notice the picture of the beets? I am always on the hunt for beets at farmer’s markets because that’s where I tend to find ones with the firm, green leaves and bright red stems. Although Swiss chard still remains dear to my tummy, last year  a college friend of mine and founder of Cuatro Caminos Collective, Eddie Casarez, introduced me to a new world of nutritious and delicious possibilities with beet greens. That’s right, that part of the beet that your mom threw away before steaming those red roots is not really meant to end up in the compost pile.

A favorite: beet greens!

Beet greens pack quite a nutritional punch. They are delicious simply sautéed in a little olive oil. Throw in a sliced garlic clove and a dash of black pepper, and you’ve got yourself a perfect side dish. Sometimes, I’ll even add ribbons of beet greens to a pasta sauce, quinoa, or even a Quiche.

Another stand-out was the tangelo. And, it’s not all about that sensational color either. The citrus-sampling station was packed with an impressive variety of grapefruit, blood oranges, clementines, and the like, but it was hard not to notice the three-year old take bite after bite of tangelos.

A twenty- or thirty- something blond in a ball cap called out to his lady companion, “He really seems to like those. What are they?”

I wonder just how many pounds Atticus helped sell that day.
In what I took to be either an act of kindness or gratitude, the vendor suggested that we pick out the firm and cool tangelos. He assured those would be sweeter and juicier than others. Sufficed to say, we will be back this Saturday. Our supply at home didn’t make it past Wednesday morning.

I hope to see you at the market!

Irvine Farmer’s Market at the University Center
Campus Drive and Bridge Road
Irvine, CA 92612
Saturdays 8am – 12pm