Showing posts with label Desserts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Desserts. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ready, Set, Go: Figs Tart Up

This is a recipe when you are home for long stretches of time. In the winter when it's too cold to go outside. Or, when there is a stay-at-home order during a pandemic. 


There are a good number of steps, but each can be completed separately rather than all the steps in one day. The result is a dessert of great flavor, textures and delicious pleasures.

An irresistible bargain inspires new fig creations


I learned to appreciate figs when I lived in a house with a fig tree. I enjoyed watching the fruit slowly form, first as a small bulb attached to a twig, then bulging into a soft, round shape, expanding into a fullness that invited the touch.
In one of my most pleasurable, early food moments I watched a fig ripen and picked it just as its nectar collected at the bottom. Biting into its warm sweetness, I was hooked. My breakfast routine after that required only a cup of black coffee, a piece of dry toast and a trip to the fig tree.
As anyone with a fruit-bearing tree knows, while the first appearance of fruit on a tree seems akin to a miracle, as the season progresses and the small gathering of fruit turns into a seemingly unending torrent, that miracle can become a curse. Knowing a recipe that requires a good number of figs is a blessing in the face of that over abundance.
Where I live now, I also have a fig tree. This one, another kind of miracle, self-seeded itself. On day three or more years ago I noticed a "weed" in our garden. Three leaves from the tiniest of stems appeared in the middle of an area where I usually plant tomatoes. As if I had encountered a friend from years ago, I immediately recognized this uninvited plant. 

A fig tree!


The spindly trunk is now 5' tall, with half a dozen branches and leaves galore. No fruit yet, but the fig tree appears to be vigorously endowed, gaining two feet in height since last year. While I wait for my home-grown figs to appear, I also am waiting for figs to appear in the markets. 

That time will come very soon and when it does, I will make a most delicious fig tart.

Crystallized ginger crust



In the past I had experimented with crystallized ginger in pie crusts. Finely ground, I spread the finely ground sugary-ginger throughout the crust so the flavor influenced but did not dominate the flavor profile of the dessert.
With that last addition, I felt I had a winner. The crystallized ginger added a sense of heat, contrasting perfectly with the sensual figs. Served at a dinner party, my choices were confirmed. The fig tart was approvingly declared “not too sweet, full of flavor.”
A pate brisee dough, thinly rolled out, creates a flaky starting point for the tart's layers of flavors. The fig confit has a rich huskiness. A simple custard binds those flavors together. The roasted almonds complete the contrasts of flavor and texture. All four components (confit, custard, almonds and dough) can be prepared a day ahead so the tart can be easily assembled on the day when you will slice the fresh figs.

Fig Tart With Custard, Crystallized Ginger and Almonds


Makes a 9-inch tart, or three or four 3-inch tartlets
For the fig confit:

Ingredients

4 of the ripest figs, washed, quartered lengthwise
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 tablespoon water

Directions

1. Scrape off and finely chop the inner part of the figs. Discard the skins.
2. In a small saucepan, mix together the fig puree, sugar and water. Heat over a medium flame. Simmer and stir frequently for five minutes.
3. Set aside to cool. This will keep in a refrigerated, sealed container for several days.

For the custard:

Custard is easier to make than you might think. This recipe is simplicity itself. The uncooked custard can be refrigerated for up to two days.

Ingredients

1 large farmers’ market fresh egg
¼ cup white sugar
½ cup heavy cream (not whipping cream) Trader Joe’s sells the only cream I can find without preservatives

Directions

1. Beat together the egg and sugar.
2. Add the cream and blend well.

For the roasted almonds:

Ingredients

¼ cup whole, raw almonds

Directions

1. Roast the almonds in a 350 F oven for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to prevent burning.

2. Remove, let cool and roughly chop. The roasted almonds can be kept in a sealed jar for several weeks.

For the dough:

I prefer a thin crust, because I want the figs, custard and almonds to predominate, but if you like a more substantial crust, double the quantities for the dough recipe.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon or 3 pieces of crystallized ginger
1¼ cups all-purpose white flour (I like King Arthur flour)
½ teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
1 teaspoon white or raw sugar
1 stick or ½ cup sweet butter, kept cold, finely chopped
3 tablespoons ice cold water

Directions

  1. Use a chef’s knife to chop up the crystallized ginger as much as you can before further grinding in a food processor with a metal blade. Don’t worry if you’re left with large pieces. Add the flour, sea salt, sugar and butter. Pulse for 30 seconds until well combined.
  2. With the food processor on, slowly add the ice-cold water in a steady stream. If the flour accumulates on the sides of the processor, shake it loose. Add enough water so the flour gets crumbly and sticks together.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface and your hands. If you are making smaller tarts, divide the dough accordingly. Gently work the dough into a flattened disk about 5 to 6 inches in circumference for the large tart, 2 to 3 inches for the small, turning it so all sides are dusted with flour. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  4. Brush melted sweet butter on the tart pan. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or overnight. This will guarantee that the dough will not stick to the pan.

Assembling the tart:

To keep the tart as fresh as possible, bake just before serving.

Ingredients

2 baskets ripe figs, washed
Custard
Fig confit
Roasted almonds
Tart dough
2 tablespoons floor for the cutting board

Directions

  1. After removing the dough from the refrigerator, let it rest on the counter 30 minutes. 
  2. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the dough evenly, starting in the middle and working to the outer edges, keeping the round shape as much as possible. Create a circle of dough 2 to 3 inches larger than the circumference of the tart pan so there’s enough to line the sides.
  4. Take the tart pan out of the freezer. Use the rolling pin to transfer the dough onto the pan. Start on one edge, lifting the dough onto the rolling pin, moving forward until the dough has wrapped around the rolling pin. Gently place the dough on the tart pan, being careful to press the dough against the sides of the pan. Use a paring knife to gently cut off the excess dough.
  5. Use pieces of the excess dough to fill any holes or close any tears. Tarts are very forgiving.
  6. Using the paring knife, poke holes every few inches on the bottom of the tart to release steam during baking. Pour pastry weights or uncooked rice to cover the dough. Bake 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven or until the crust is lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Carefully remove the pastry weights or rice.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
  8. Using a pastry brush, spread the fig confit evenly over the bottom as well as the sides of the crust. Cut off and discard the stems from the figs and quarter them lengthwise. Lay the figs on the bottom of the tart, cut side up, in a decorative way, which usually means placing them in circles within circles. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon raw sugar. Place the tart on a baking tray and put in the oven. Bake 20 minutes.
  9. Remove the tart from the oven. Drizzle custard over the figs. Sprinkle with roasted almonds. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.
  10. Check to see that the custard has set. Be careful not to burn the figs. Remove tart and let cool on a rack.
  11. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar and with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Ready, Set, Go: A Gluten-Free Pear Tart

Tart crust is most always made with flour. For those who prefer a gluten-free crust, finely ground raw almonds offers a delicious substitute.

In this stay-at-home time, when we have the leisure to bake, an easy-to-make tart is a great way to celebrate good dining and the pleasures of life.

Pear Tart with Ground Almond Dough

Select firm pears with no soft spots. I prefer Bosc pears because they hold their shape when they cook.


Use raw whole almonds and unsalted (sweet) butter. Commercially prepared almond flour can be used to create a lighter crust but is not easy to find.  I prefer grinding raw whole almonds to give the crust more density.

For added spiciness, incorporate ground up crystalized ginger in the dough, but that is optional.

Roll out dough on a sheet of waxed paper to prevent sticking.

Makes a 9" tart or three 3" small tarts

Serves 4-8

Ingredients for crust

1 1/2 cups raw whole almonds
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white or raw sugar
1 stick or ½ cup sweet butter, kept cold, finely chopped
1 tablespoons ice cold water
1 tablespoon or 3 pieces of crystallized ginger (optional)
Sheet of waxed paper

Directions

  1. If using crystalized ginger (optional) use chef’s knife to chop up the ginger as much as you can before further grinding in a food processor with a metal blade.  Place raw whole almonds, sea salt, sugar,  butter and (optional) ground crystalized ginger into the food processor. Pulse 30 seconds until well combined. If ground almonds accumulate on the sides of the processor, shake them loose or use a spatula. 
  2. With food processor on, slowly add ice-cold water. Add enough water so the ground almonds get crumbly and stick together.
  3. Remove dough from food processor. If  making smaller tarts, divide dough accordingly. Gently work dough into a flattened disk about 5 to 6 inches in circumference for the large tart, 2 to 3 inches for the small. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  4. Brush melted sweet butter on tart pan. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes or overnight. This will guarantee that the dough will not stick to the pan.

Ingredients for filling

2 pounds Bosc pears, washed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 tablespoons raw almonds

Directions

  1. Remove dough from refrigerator and let rest on the counter 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Place raw whole almonds on aluminum foil in oven. Roast 5 minutes. Remove and cool. Roughly chop and reserve.
  3. Peel and core pears, discarding skins unless using them to make pear sauce
  4. Cut peeled & cored pears from top to bottom into 1/2" slices
  5. Toss cut pears with lemon juice and brown sugar in a bowl
  6. Place dough on waxed paper and roll out the dough evenly with a rolling pin. Start in the middle and work to the outer edges, keeping the round shape as much as possible. Create a circle of dough 2 to 3 inches larger than the circumference of the tart pan so there’s enough to line the sides.
  7. Take the tart pan out of the freezer. Place tart pan open side down on top of rolled out dough. Gently flip over the dough and pan. Peel off the waxed paper. Carefully ease the dough into the tart pan. Press dough against the sides and along the bottom. Use a paring knife to gently cut off the excess dough.
  8. Use pieces of the excess dough to fill any holes or close any tears. Tarts are very forgiving.
  9. Using the paring knife, poke holes every few inches on the bottom of the dough to release steam during baking. Pour pastry weights or uncooked rice to cover the dough. Bake 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven or until the crust is lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Carefully remove pastry weights or rice.
  10. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
  11. Lay pear slices on bottom of the tart in a decorative way, which usually means placing them in circles within circles. Pour pear juice over pear slices. Sprinkle pear slices with 1 tablespoon raw sugar. 
  12. Place tart on a baking tray and put in the oven. Bake 20 minutes.
  13. Remove the tart from the oven.  Sprinkle with roasted almonds. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
  14. Be careful not to burn pears. Remove tart and let cool on a rack.
  15. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar and with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.




Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Classic Flourless Chocolate Cake Gets a Flavor Twist

New Year's Eve is fast approaching. Super Bowl Sunday isn't that far off. Perfect for both or any celebration, a flourless chocolate cake proves the maxim, a little taste goes a long way. Because the dense cake has so much flavor, a thin slice topped with freshly made whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is more than enough to end a meal or celebrate a memorable occasion.

Many years ago I read my first flourless chocolate cake recipe in Esquire magazine. As created by Jean Banchet, the celebrated French chef, the basics were straight forward. A good quality dark chocolate is melted together with sweet (unsalted) butter. In a separate bowl egg yolks are sweetened with sugar. Egg whites are whipped into peaks. Then, the three are mixed into one bowl.

Like a souffle, a flourless chocolate cake is a delicate confection. Jostled or treated carelessly, the egg whites so carefully aerated will collapse.

My contribution to this classic was a few flavorful ingredients. Instead of a liqueur which is often used to enliven the density of the chocolate, I like to add orange zest and a handful of finely chopped roasted almonds.

The recipe will make 1-2 large cakes or 8-10 smaller ones.

This is purely a matter of taste, but I prefer thin cakes, 1"-2" tall. The taller the cake, the longer the bake. The times listed below are estimates. Ultimately the test of whether the cake is done is to insert a pairing knife into the middle. When withdrawn, the knife should have a small amount of chocolate on the blade. Be careful not to dry out the cake.

After a dusting of confectionary sugar, the cake must always be served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

A few special kitchen tools are essential. Non-stick parchment paper. Springform pans. And a power mixer.

The cake is best served warm, heated for ten minutes in a 250F oven.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Orange Zest and Roasted Almonds

Only use good quality chocolate without additives. The same is true of the heavy cream used to make whipped cream for the topping. In Los Angeles where I live, Trader Joe's has two products which I always use. The One Pound chocolate bars (56-70% cacao) and the heavy cream are both made without additives. I highly recommend them for this and other desserts.

When filling the springform pans, leave room 1" at the top because the batter will rise.

Serves 12

Makes (1-2) 6"-9" cakes or (8-10) 3" cakes

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Time to bake: 30 minutes - 3 hours depending on diameter and height of cake

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks + 2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 tablespoon white flour
14 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into quarter sized pieces
1 1/2 cups sugar
10 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup raw almonds, roasted in 250F oven 5 minutes, finely chopped
1 teaspoon orange zest, finely chopped
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
2 cups heavy cream or 1 pint good quality vanilla or vanilla bean ice cream

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 250F.

2. Remove the bottom(s) of the springform pan(s) and place on parchment paper on a flat surface. Use a pencil to trace the outline of the bottom(s) onto the paper. Use sharp scissors to cut out the paper round(s). Lay the parchment paper round(s) inside the springform pan(s). Set aside.

3. Use a double boiler or place a sauce pan on top of another pan. Add water in the lower pot to fill halfway. Place on stove top on a medium flame so the water simmers.

4. Melt butter in double boiler. Use pastry brush to paint the top of the parchment paper and inside the springform pan(s) with melted butter. Dust with flour. Set aside.

5. Add chocolate to melted butter. Stir and melt but do not boil. Once chocolate and butter are combined, stir in roasted chopped almonds, set aside for five minutes.

6. Place egg yolks, sugar minus 2 tablespoons, vanilla extract and orange zest into a mixing bowl. Mix well. Set aside.

7. In the bowl of an electric mixing, place the egg whites and lemon juice. Using the wire whisk attachment, beat two minutes and sprinkle in 2 tablespoons sugar. Continue mixing until peaked but no more. Set aside.

8. Using a rubber spatula, carefully combine the egg yolk and chocolate mixtures. Set aside.

9. Transfer the chocolate mixture into egg whites being careful to incorporate all the egg whites.

10. Place the springform pan(s) on a flat baking sheet. Using the spatula, transfer the batter into the pan(s), leaving room 1" at the top.

11. Place springform pan(s) into the oven. Check every 30 minutes and rotate baking sheet to prevent the cake(s) being uneven because your stove is not level.

12. To make whipped cream, place heavy cream in electric mixer with wire whisk. With machine on high, sprinkle in confectioner's sugar. Continue whisking until the cream is fluffy. Be careful not to over whisk. The result will be butter milk. Refrigerate whipped cream in an airtight container until needed, as much a day before.

13. Insert pairing knife into center of cake(s). When blade has a small amount of chocolate, remove cake(s) from oven and allow to rest on cake rack 15 minutes. Cake(s) will contract making removal from the springform pan easy. Lift cake(s) off the bottom and parchment paper. Place on a decorative plate.

14. Serve cake(s) warm with a sharp knife and a large bowl of freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pears & Pomegranate Seeds Make a Delicious Thanksgiving Dessert

A last minute dessert suggestion before Thanksgiving. Poach pear sections in a lemony-brown sugar liquid and add pomegranate seeds for a pleasing crunch to counterpoint the soft, sweet pears. Serve the pears as a small plate dessert or as a topping for ice cream or yogurt.
For our meal, I'll make whipped cream to put on top of a bowl with the pears and pomegranates with a few tablespoons of the poaching liquid.

Sweet and Lemony Poached Pears with Pomegranates 
Serves 8

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 5 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds unblemished small Bosc pears, washed
1 cup golden brown sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Directions

Peel the pears. Discard the peels and the stems. Cut each pear length-wise into four pieces. Cut and discard the inner stem and seeds. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, over a medium flame, heat the golden brown sugar and lemon juice. Stir and heat until the sugar dissolves.

Add the pear sections to the saucepan. Stir well to coat with the sugar mixture. Cover.
Check ever 2 minutes to stir the pears so they cook evenly and are well coated with the poaching liquid.

After 5 minutes, remove the lid and set aside. Add the pomegranate seeds and stir well.
If making the pears a day or two ahead, transfer the pears, pomegranates and poaching liquid to an air tight container and refrigerate.

The pears can be served cold, hot or at room temperature, depending on taste.

Variations

Add 1 tablespoon golden raisins to the poaching liquid and simmer 5 minutes before adding the pears.

Add 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger to the poaching liquid along with the pears.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Passion Fruit Custard - Easy to Make, Delicious to Eat

Passion fruit are in season.  The small fruit packs a big flavor when added to cocktails, sauces and custards.

When our son lived in Rio, we visited Brazil for ten days. In the time he had spent there going to college, he had become fluent in Portuguese. With him as our guide, we experienced the city the way locals do. We had several meals at his apartment. One of his signature cocktails was a caipirinha made with cachaça, lime, sugar and lots of ice. To a regular caipirinha, Franklin added fresh passion fruit. The cocktail was delicious.
When he came back to Los Angeles, he continued to serve caipirinhas. To make the drink, he would strain out the seeds and add only the juice from the fruit. He would toss the seeds and husks into our compost bin. We used the compost in the vegetable garden and after a few months we had dozens of passion fruit plants growing along the fence. Ever since, we have had passion fruit vines trellised on the fence.
Some years we had a bumper crop of several dozen passion fruit. Other years, like this past summer, the plants produced only a handful. In any case, flavoring the custard takes only two, so we had enough from the garden to make passion fruit custard for dinner last night. And it was delicious.

Passion Fruit Custard
An easy to make custard requiring a minimum of effort. Use quality fresh ingredients, farmers market eggs and good heavy cream. To my knowledge only Trader Joe's sells a heavy cream without additives or preservatives.

The custard tastes the best when it is only 1" deep. Creating a taller custard means the top and bottom will cook but not the middle.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Passion Fruit seeds and pulp soak overnight in custard

Baking time: 45-120 minutes depending on the size of the baking dish
Ingredients

2 extra large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
2 fresh passion fruit, washed

Method

Cut open the passion fruit. Use a small spoon to remove the seeds and any pulp. Set aside. Discard the husk.

Beat together the eggs and white sugar. Add the cream and passion fruit to the sugar-egg mix. Stir well. Cover in an airtight container and place in the refrigerator over night.

In the morning, pour the custard through a strainer and into a bowl. Remove the passion fruit seeds. Use a rubber spatula to scrape off the custard on the bottom of the strainer and add to the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Pour the custard into a large 9" round oven-proof baking dish or 6 porcelain ramekins. Prepare a water bath by pouring 1" of water into a baking pan larger than the baking dish by several inches.

Bake for 45 minutes (the ramekins) or 90 minutes (the baking dish). Every 15 minutes rotate the baking dish and ramekins so they cook evenly. If the custard is browning too quickly, lay a piece of tin foil over the top.

The custard is done when it doesn't jiggle when moved. Depending on your oven, the baking time could be as much as 2 hours or even longer.

Serve at room temperature.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Figs Tart Up

A chance encounter with a discounted flat of perfectly ripe figs led to a day of baking in pursuit of a great tasting fig tart for a recipe I contributed to Zesterdaily.  
Although it might look complicated, because there are a number of elements (tart dough, custard, roasted almonds, fig confit), each element can be made several days ahead.  

On the day you want to serve the tart, you'll only spend a few minutes putting everything together.  The tart goes in the oven while you're having drinks with your friends.  Easy.

The tart can be made into half a dozen small tartlets (above) or one very large tart that serves a dozen or more.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on the New York Times Dining. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Year's Eve Treats: Salmon with Crispy Skin and Buckaroo Cookies

Where does time go? Last I looked, it was almost Thanksgiving. Now it's almost New Year's Eve. 2013 was a good year. Wishing everyone a great 2014.

On New Year's Eve we're having friends over for a late dinner and an evening of movie watching. We've seen most of the movies in Oscar contention and we have our favorites (HerNebraska Philomena and Fruitvale Station). But we have more to watch so we'll enjoy the evening with food and films.

Two of the treats I'll make include holiday cookies and salmon filet with crispy skin.  A few months ago for my oldest son's birthday party, we had a dinner at Napa Valley Grille in Westwood. Franklin likes farm fresh food, simply prepared, not fussy. We sampled the menu and the food was delicious. The chef stopped by to see if everyone was happy. A friendly, nice guy, chef Taylor Boudreaux sent out a pasta dish with truffles as a gift to the table. What a nice thing to do.
One of the dishes we had at the dinner was  a salmon filet with crispy skin. It's a simple dish but I've never been able to get the skin right at home. Chef Boudreaux agreed to do a video demonstration.
The interview and video are on Zester Daily. He makes it look so easy. He shared the magic. I tried it at home. It worked! So cool.

Chef's Secret To Crispy Skin For Pan-Seared Salmon Filets

Alana Vague, a friend of a friend, was baking cookies as holiday gifts. She put them in little brown paper bags, nicely tied with a ribbon.  They are delicious and Alana says they're easy to make, a recipe from her great-grandmother. They'll be perfect to snack on while we're watching movies.

Alana's Great-Grandmother's Buckaroo Cookies
Yield: a lot

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups quick oats
1 cup butterscotch chips
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions

Cream butter and sugars
Add eggs and vanilla
Add dry ingredients
Stir in oats and chips
Drop by tablespoon on cookie sheet
Bake at 375 degrees for 7-9 minutes
(I bake them for 7ish then let them rest on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes or so)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day, Time to Set the Table and Make a Wonderful Meal

As my mother used to say, "Where has the time gone?" It feels as if we were celebrating New Year's Eve a few weeks ago and now it's the middle of May with summer just around the corner. Yesterday I bought the first corn of the season from Gloria at the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers Market. Big fat ears that grilled up sweet and delicious.

My mother loved Thanksgiving because the family was gathered together. She loved my sister and I working beside her in the kitchen, wrapping sweet potatoes in aluminum foil, shelling walnuts and making turkey chopped liver.

I loved Mother's Day because that was a day to make my mom the recipes she liked. Egg salad with bacon, a dish based on her own modification of her mother's recipe, roasted beet salad, potato salad with grilled vegetables, carrot salad with lemon-black pepper soaked golden raisins, rosemary fried chicken and banana cake with chocolate chips and walnuts.

My mom passed away two weeks shy of her 93rd birthday. She had a good life, filled with ups and downs like any life. My last memory of her was our reading the newspaper together, enjoying a good laugh at the expense of then-President George W. Bush--this was 2006--and she was enjoying a Vietnamese bbq pork banh mi sandwich loaded with lots of pickled carrots and daikon. She was happy. Life was good.

So for everyone who wants some good food on Mother's Day--or any day, for that matter--here are some of my mom's favorite dishes.


Egg Salad with Grilled Vegetables and Crisp Bacon

Starting with my mom's basic recipe, I've added grilled vegetables and freshly chopped parsley for color and flavor. Crisp bacon gives a salty crunch.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

4 farmers' market fresh large or extra large eggs
1 large carrot, washed, ends trimmed, peeled
1 ear of corn, tassels and husk removed, washed
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, washed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed, finely chopped
2 strips of bacon, finely chopped, sauteed until crisp, drained
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots or scallion
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

To make easy-to-peel hardboiled eggs, I happily borrow Katie Goodman's directions which are to place the eggs into a quart-sized pot with salted (1 teaspoon kosher salt) cold water to cover 2" above the eggs. Raise the heat to high and allow the water to rapidly boil for two minutes. Remove from the burner, cover and let stand fifteen minutes.

Pour off the hot water, rinse with cold water, let the eggs cool to the touch and peel the shells. Dry the eggs and refrigerate until ready to use.

Slice the carrot into flat slabs about 1/4" thick and 3" long.  Toss in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.  Season the ear of corn similarly.  Grill the carrots and corn until lightly browned all over or oven roast in a 400 F oven for 15 minutes. Turn frequently to avoid burning. Let cool.  Finely chop the carrots. Cut the kernels off the cob.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped eggs, carrots, corn kernels, parsley, shallots, and crisp bacon bits. Toss. Season with sea salt and black pepper.  Add the mayonnaise and mix well.

Serve on bread, crackers, or lettuce leaves.

Variations

Add 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped

Omit the bacon

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped, pitted olives

Roast 2 garlic cloves, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper until lightly browned, peel off the skins, finely chop the soft garlic and add to the egg salad

Add a dash of tabasco or a dusting of cayenne pepper for heat.

Roasted Beet Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 1 hour or more depending on the size of the beets

The beets my mom served when I was a kid were either boiled or canned. For some reason she never roasted beets until I made them. After that they were her favorite. Not soggy, the beets cook inside their skins, retaining all their sweetness.  They taste great and they're easy to make.

Ingredients

1 bunch of large beets
Olive oil

Method

Cut off the leaves and stems, reserving them to use later. A quick side note: after you wash them, if you chop up the leaves and stems, sauté them with olive oil, garlic and shallots; they'll caramelize and you can serve them as a side dish or tossed with pasta; they're delicious. 

Thoroughly wash the beets to get rid of any grit. Do not remove the skins or cut off the root. 

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet. Place the beets in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. 

Turn the beets every 20 minutes so they cook evenly. Use a wooden skewer to test if they're done. Roast until the skewer goes into the beets easily but don't let them get too soft. Al dente is good.

Let cool, then peel off the skins, cut off the root and the top part and discard. 

Serve them up the way you like--julienne, rounds, or roughly cut--put them in a bowl and dress with olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.

Variations

Use a vinagrette dressing, add feta, sliced scallions, and chopped Italian parsley.

Top with roasted walnuts.

Add roasted carrots.

Add green grapes sliced in half.

Potato Salad with Vegetables

Yield:  4-6 servings

Time: 45 minutes

As a side dish, potato salad goes with any grilled meat or fish.

Ingredients

2 pounds potatoes (Yukon Gold or King Edward), washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons grated carrots
1 tablespoon corn kernels
1 scallion, end trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (preferably Best Foods/Hellman's)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the potatoes in a pot, fill with water to cover, add the kosher salt, cover with a lid or piece of aluminum foil, and boil on high heat for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked but still firm. 

Remove the pot from the heat, pour off the hot water, refill the pot with cold water and let the potatoes cool.

Sauté the corn with a little olive oil for 5 minutes until lightly browned.  Let cool. In a large bowl, mix together the corn, carrots, scallion, and parsley. 

Peel the skin off the potatoes--save the skin for a breakfast sauté with eggs--chop the potatoes into dime-sized pieces, and add to the bowl. Toss all the ingredients together and season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in the mayonnaise and mix well. 

Taste and adjust the flavors with more mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley.

Add celery or capers.

Add crispy bacon.

Add grilled shrimp.

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

Yield 6-8 (makes 1 quart)

Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

8 large carrots (preferably farmers market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Method

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl.

Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions.

Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.

Variations

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley

Add chopped capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds


Rosemary Fried Chicken

Yield4 servings

Time45 minutes to prepare, marinate the chicken overnight in buttermilk

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, washed, cut apart, skin removed if desired, wing tips, bones, and skin reserved to make chicken stock
1 quart buttermilk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts safflower or canola oil

Method

When you cut up the chicken, separate the two parts of the wing and cut the breast meat off the bone. Keep or discard the skin as you wish. The breasts can be left whole but will cook more evenly when cut into strips or tenders. The legs and thighs can be cut in half if you have a heavy chef's knife.

Toss the chicken pieces with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Put the pieces in a container, add the buttermilk, 1 tablespoon of the rosemary, stir, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Using a wok or deep frying pan, heat the cooking oil to 325 - 350 degrees or until a piece of parsley browns immediately when dropped in the oil. Before you begin cooking, prepare your counter. Have a slotted spoon or an Asian style strainer ready. Lay two paper towels on top of a piece of brown grocery bag paper on a large plate.

Reserve 1 teaspoon of the rosemary to use just before serving.

In a brown paper bag mix together the flour, sea salt, pepper, rosemary, cayenne (optional), sugar (optional), and onions (optional). Remove one piece of chicken at a time. 

Shake off the excess buttermilk, drop the piece into the paper bag with the seasoned flour, close the top of the bag, and shake. Repeat with all the pieces, assembling them on a plate or cutting board.

Cook the chicken in batches. Gently drop each piece into the hot oil, making sure it doesn't touch the other pieces so each one cooks evenly.

Turn over when browned on one side. Remove when golden brown and drain on the paper towels. The pieces will cook quickly: chicken tenders (breast) 2-3 minutes; wings 7-8 minutes; thighs & legs 10-12 minutes.

Just before serving, lightly dust the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of rosemary, sea salt and pepper.

If you are making deep fried vegetables like onion rings or broccoli florets, they cook even more quickly: thick rings cook in 30 seconds, thin rings in 5-6 seconds; broccoli in 30 seconds. 

Soak the vegetables in the seasoned buttermilk for a few minutes, then process like the chicken pieces.


Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts 
Yield 8 to 10 servings
Time 90 minutes
Ingredients
  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sweet butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts 
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Method
  • 1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and paint the inside of a 9 x 3 round cake pan, then put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. (The frozen butter prevents the batter from sticking to the pan.) On a cookie sheet bake the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so; let cool, roughly chop, and set aside.
  • 2. In a bowl mash the bananas with a fork, add the baking soda and vanilla. Stir well and set aside. In a mixer use the whisk to cream together the softened butter and both sugars. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, half and half and whisk until blended. Mix in the flour half a cup at a time, being careful not to over-beat. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula to blend in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the buttered cake pan; it will only fill the pan half-way.
  • 3. Bake the cake in a 350 oven for 60-70 minutes, rotating the pan every 20 minutes so the cake cooks evenly. Test to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer. If the top is browning too quickly, lightly lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top. When the skewer comes out clean, take the cake out of the oven and place it on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan, putting it back on the wire rack to finish cooling.
  • 4. Just before serving dust the top with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

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