cream-puffsWhen asked “What is your favorite dessert?” my answer is spontaneous.  Cream puffs, those exquisite little morsels of pastry and sweet whipped cream.  And one of the best things about serving cream puffs is to hear the “oh’s” and “ah’s” when they are presented at a dessert table.  They are so simple to make with inexpensive ingredients, and really get the bang for the buck.  There is nothing better to see than the eyes of children when they catch sight of the cream puffs, and the adults that turn into kids while stuffing the little darlings into their mouths.

We have had a family tradition for the past 7 years of throwing a New Year’s Day party.  It seems that the older we get (which includes our friends), the less interest we have in partying our brains out the night before and dealing with drunk drivers on the road at 2 am.  We are suburban cowards, party poopers, and quite alive, hence the party.  One of the main draws of the party is that I serve an enormous choucroute garnis – the queen of the Alsatian sauerkrauts. Where my mother comes from in France, it is good luck to eat choucroute on New Year’s Day.  Choucroute is a wonderful meal with ham hocks, bacon, sausages, juniper berries, white wine and caraway seeds. I usually use the local producers of sausage such as Aidells (the roasted garlic and gruyere is sublime) and Corralitos Meat Market.  Also we serve a lovely Riesling (if I can get it, it’s from Joseph Meyer of Wintzenheim, France near Colmar) and to top off the day, cream puffs.

I’ve been using the same New York Times recipe for years and have added my own bag of tricks.  Once the cream puffs have cooled down from the oven, prick them several times on the bottom so that the puff can dry out.  This also keeps them from collapsing from the trapped moisture.  Remember to set the timer so you can turn down the oven heat and if you are doing several batched of the puffs, remember to reset the oven to the high heat.  If you have a neighborhood Costco or equivalent of a bulk store, buy the whipped cream in the ½ gallon container.  Costco carries Producer’s Whipped Cream, which produces wonderful, inexpensive whipped cream.  Just buy really great vanilla, such as that sold by Patricia Rains at the Vanilla Company.  Patricia will only deal with fair trade growers and her vanilla, whether it is from Mexico or Madagascar, is divine.

CREAM PUFFS

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees

INGREDIENTS – Puff Pastry – up to 30 cream puffs

1 stick of butter chopped (1/2 cup)

1 cup of water

1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)

2 dashes of salt

4 eggs

Confectioner’s or powdered sugar

In a nice medium-size heavy pot, pour water and add chopped butter and salt.  Use a medium flame or setting and stir occasionally until butter has melted.

Take the pot off the flame and dump in the flour.  Quickly whisk the mixture until it balls.

Crack the egg and add it to the mixture.  Whisk until it is well mixed – no gloopy egg parts.  Repeat with the other 3 eggs.  By the 4th egg, the mixture should become a lovely glossy batter.

On a cooking sheet, place spoonfuls of the batter on a lined cooking sheet with either a silicon pad or parchment paper (if you have neither, butter the cooking sheet).  Pop into the oven and bake for 15 minutes (don’t forget the timer).  Then reduce the oven to 350 degrees and cook until the little bubbles of fat on top of the puffs are gone.  Depending on the size of your puffs, this can take 15 – 30 minutes. Once the puffs are cool, slice them sideways so that people can put cream into them.  Usually I let people spoon in the cream themselves.  Sprinkle (or use a sifter) the puffs with confectioners/powdered sugar.

If you are like me, with arthritis in your wrists there is a solution.  Don’t whisk, but put the mixing attachment on your mixer (the whisk will turn the dough into pudding), wait a ½ minute from the time the dough was cooked and lightly whisked, and follow the recipe in the same manner as if you were whisking the eggs into the batter.  The cream puffs aren’t as beautiful this way, but your wrist won’t hurt and with a nice covering of powdered sugar, no one will notice, since they are too busy pigging out on puffs.

INGREDIENTS – this is for 3 to 4 loads of the cream puff recipe

¾ of a half gallon container of whipping cream

Cup of  Sugar – you can use regular, ultrafine or powdered

Tablespoon of vanilla extract

In a large mixer bowl, add cream, sugar and vanilla extract.  Whip  in your mixer until the cream has heavy peaks.  If you are unsure, then grab a regular spoon, place it spoon down, and see if the whipped cream can hold up the spoon.  If not, whip a bit longer until the cream is stiff.  Cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator until serving time.  Serve in a nice bowl with a large spoon so that people can help themselves.

Laurent Tourondel, the cooking sensation behind the BLT (Bistro Laurent Tourondel), developed this wonderful recipe for coleslaw. In October 2007, Bon Appétit magazine named him Restaurateur of the Year. This most recent award solidifies his place among the top in the culinary world, while further positioning his award-winning BLT restaurants as some of the nation’s best. Tourondel suggests using this dressing over thinly sliced Napa cabbage, red cabbage, carrots and red peppers.  To garnish, chop cilantro, mint leaves and I like to add some chopped peanuts.

INGREDIENTS

Smooth peanut butter

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

6 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons sugar

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoon Sriracha chile sauce

DIRECTIONS

Peanut butter to the ½ blue mark on the SaladSuccess shaker

Add lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, garlic and Sriracha.

Shake vigorously and serve over cabbage, carrots & red peppers

Garnish with cilantro mint leaves and chopped peanuts.

Adapted from Laurent Tourondel

Fran Gage is a wonderful food writer for Saveur and other publications.  Just recently I had the pleasure meeting her at the Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College near Santa Cruz, CA.  Fran has just come out with a wonderful book called The New American Olive Oil which contains history, advice on choosing oils, profiles on the producers, and yes, wonderful recipes.  This vinaigrette recipe is from her book and has been adapted to the SaladSuccess shaker.  She suggests a salad of romaine hearts, apples or sliced pears, and chopped toasted pecans.  I personally like it using butter lettuce and walnuts.

INGREDIENTS

Extra-virgin olive oil

White wine or white balsamic vinegar

3 large spoonfuls of crumbled blue cheese

1 large spoonful of water

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Olive Oil to the 3/4 blue marks on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Vinegar to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add blue cheese to shaker and mash with a fork to break down the crumbles

Shake vigorously in the SaladSuccess shaker

Add water

Shake vigorously again in the SaladSuccess shaker

Add salt and pepper to taste

Adapted from The New American Olive Oil by Fran Gage

vineyard-collage-copyThe title says it all: A great weekend of food, fun and friends.  How do I begin?  I knew that on Sunday we would have a wonderful time.  October is grape harvest time and our friends, Joan and Milt Barber, have a tiny but delicious little vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains near their lovely casual home that overlooks the valley.  Milt, who is now retired, has spent years cosseting his vines that produce mostly sweet chardonnay grapes (I always feel guilty when I pop a few in my mouth) that are purchased by the Byington Winery, in the mountains behind Los Gatos, California.  Once the wine master for Byington decides on a date to harvest, due to sugar content in the grapes, Joan and Milt send out an email to their friends and family to help cut the grapes, and then to enjoy lunch at their home.  Even my kids salivate for this event since the harvest is fun and furious with tasty treats of grapes, and the lunch is beyond “superb”.

Later on Sunday, my darling cousin, Sharon Heit, and her daughter, Lora Bodmer (Queen of X-Sports public relations) wearing her newest accessory – a cast protecting her broken hand attributed from a lack of attention racing her bike through the Presidio in San Francisco- joined my family for dinner of sautéed shrimps with onions, garlic, basil and parmesan, tomato salad with basil, greens, mozzarella and vinaigrette, sourdough bread and champagne.  Sharon hails from Boulder, Colorado and Lora splits her life between San Diego and Jackson Hole, WY.  Mostly though, I live vicariously thru Lora’s trips – exotic ports such as Bali.  Talking about living la vida loca and enjoying every moment of life.

However Saturday became one of unexpected pleasure.  While perusing thru my favorite stands at the Aptos Farmers Market, I noticed that Fran Gage, food writer Saveur, Fine Cooking, the San Francisco Chronicle and author of Chocolate Obsession and Bread and Chocolate, was speaking and demo about California olive oils plus having a book signing of her newest book, The New American Olive Oil. This book is a must for ALL foodies since it explains the history and methods of producing olive oil, the current scandal happening in Europe of mixing the cheaper hazelnut oil with olive oil, choosing and storing the oils, and profiles on the Californian olive orchards.  Fran is an olive oil judge for the Los Angeles International Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Competition, and is part of the University of California at Davis research panel that test-tastes California and other countries olive oils. To top it off, Fran includes 75 of her favorite recipes made with, what else, olive oil.

Now as you know, I’m crazy about olive oil, and what I got out of her speech and demonstration is that if you want pure, uncompromised olive oil, buy California since it has the highest standards of any olive oil.  And buy her book for not only is it informative and beautiful with lovely photos, it also has great recipes.

So here is the treat.  Right next to her book-signing area there were lovely little chocolate truffles (yes, made with olive oil) that were delicious beyond belief.  Here is to you, Fran, thank you for your wonderful book, your research and especially, your recipes including that of a naughty chocolate truffle with orange olive oil.

Chocolate Truffles with Orange Olive Oil

Makes about 30 1 inch truffles

Warning:  Needs at least 4 hours or overnight

Kids will love rolling the truffles

Fran prefers using a dark chocolate, such as Valrhona’s manjari for the ganache and a natural unsweetened cocoa powder for.  She also suggests using an immersion blender for the proper emulsifications of the ganache.

INGREDIENTS

8 ounces 64% dark chocolate coarsely chopped

2/3 cup (5 ¼ ounces) heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup (1 ounce) powdered cane sugar

3 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces) orange or blood orange olive oil

DIRECTIONS

  1. Put the chocolate in a 1-quart vessel, preferably a clear one designed for use with an immersion blender.
  2. Put the cream and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Let sit 1 minute.  Blend the two together with an immersion blender using a stirring motion, going to the bottom of the vessel, until the ganache becomes less shiny and thickens to a pudding-like consistency, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the orange olive oil in a steady stream, blending constantly.  Pour the ganache into a bowl and let it cool to room temperature.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap without touching the ganache.  Keep the ganache in a cool room for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  5. To roll the truffles, place a piece of parchment paper on a baking pan.  Use a       1-inch ice cream ice cream scoop to make balls of ganache.  Put them on the baking sheet.
  6. Put about 1.2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder in a medium bowl.  Dust your palms with some of the cocoa powder.  Briefly roll the truffles between your palms to smooth them, then drop them into the bowl of cocoa powder.  After you have made 6 truffles, shake the bowl to completely cover them with cocoa.  Transfer the truffles to a plate with your cocoa powder-dusted fingers.
  7. If not serving the truffles immediately, refrigerate them in a bowl with some cocoa powder so they won’t stick together.  Before serving, put them on a plate and let them come to room temperature.  They will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator.

From The New American Olive Oil: Profiles of Artisan Producers and 75 Recipes by Fran Gage

Photographs by Warren Frush

Here is another southwestern rendition of ranch dressing, this time with chipotles, limes and cilantro. Has a delightful clean fresh taste and it’s great as a dressing or a dip.

INGREDIENTS

Mayonnaise

Buttermilk or sour cream

4 large spoonfuls of parmesan cheese

4 large spoonfuls of lime juice

4 large spoonfuls of pureed chipotle peppers

1 large spoonful of cilentro

1 spoonful of minced dried onion

1 spoonful of cumin

1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced

2 dashes of salt

1 dash of cayenne

DIRECTIONS

Mayonnaise to the ½ blue marks on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Buttermilk or sour cream to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add the rest of the ingredients

Shake vigorously and chill for ½ hour or more.

Reshake before serving

Once again, don’t squeeze out the dressing through the poppet top; just unscrew the top and pour over your salad.

Well, let’s turn up the heat.  And the spices.  You can use any taco seasoning with this recipe.  I myself have a large bottle of McCormick Taco Seasoning that I bought at Costco, but the best I found was Chef Andrew Cohen’s Southwest Spice Seasoning.  Give a call at Malabar Trading Company at 831-469-8233 to order.  Warning, these packets are small so order enough.  This dressing is not only great while eating chicken wings, but also on a green salad with jicama, cheddar cheese, sweet red peppers and of course, avocado slices.

INGREDIENTS

Mayonnaise

Buttermilk or Sour Cream

4 large spoonfuls of taco seasoning

1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced

2 dashes of salt

2 dash of cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS

Mayonnaise to the ½ blue mark on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Buttermilk/sour cream to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add taco seasoning, garlic, salt & cayenne pepper

Shake vigorously and chill for ½ hour.

Reshake before serving

Once again, don’t squeeze out the dressing through the poppet top; just unscrew the top and pour over your salad .

Fried Chicken with Ranch Dressing, it’s an American classic.  Here is a simple and wonderful way to make Ranch Dressing for chicken or for a mixed salad.  I especially love it over beets.  If you want it with a  richer taste, then replace the buttermilk with sour cream.  Delightful, either way.

INGREDIENTS

Mayonnaise

Buttermilk

4 large spoonfuls of Parmesan cheese

2 large spoonfuls of dried parsley

1 spoonful of minced dried onion

1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced

2 dashes of salt

1 dash of pepper

DIRECTIONS

Mayonnaise to the ½ blue mark on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Buttermilk to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add Parmesan cheese, dry parsley, minced dry onion, garlic, salt & pepper

Shake vigorously and chill for ½ hour.

Reshake before serving

Once again, don’t squeeze out the dressing through the poppet top; just unscrew the top and pour over your salad.

capitolaAfter many years of trying different places to live, I finally decided to move to the San Francisco bay area and settle down. So of course, the fickle finger of fate had me fall in love with a Colorado Mountain man and move out to Colorado Springs. During those days, Colorado Springs had beautiful scenery, lovely woods, Air Force boys, no jobs and even worse, NO GOOD FOOD. To me, living this was dining hell. I only found one passable restaurant and it closed up four months later.

Finally I talked my fiancé into moving back to my beloved Bay area where we negotiated and decided that the coastal area near Santa Cruz (45 minutes north of Carmel) was a great place to live. No more sweaty summers, no snow to shovel, beach, mountains and GREAT FOOD. Well, not exactly great, but I could find fresh produce and fruits at my local markets. One day, when we were looking over the shoreline cliffs, my new husband, Warren, looked me in eyes (sometimes when the light is right, he looks like Sean Connery, my eternal crush), squeezed my hand and murmured, “You’re right, the food is so much better here”. A great romantic moment, and a newly-born fresh food convert.
My main market was (and still is today) the Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College which for several years, was stuggling to survive. People still didn’t understand the concept of “from field to table” and the nutritional value of organic foods. However about 5 years ago, when the market moved into their final location at the college, Catherine Barr – our straight-talking Market Director, Annaliese Keller – a renaissance woman, master baker, tea blender extraordinaire, and I decided to give the market a kick-off celebration and we’ve never had to look back since. The Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College has become a passion to many area shoppers with its great selection of foods, live music, and arts.
Now the market has not only a wonderful website but a brand new blog which I adore and plan meals with the wonderful recipes provided by area and visiting chefs, prize-winning cooks and savvy farmers. It’s call Edible Paradise, and every day I thank God for this bountiful land that provides to us daily, the wonders of the land. We are blessed, for living out here, not only with the great weather, fine beaches, beautiful mountains, is truly an edible paradise.
So I part with you this week with a prize-winning Harvest Festival 2006 recipe from Penelope Kenez, a fresh fig tart with almonds.
Fresh Fig Tart with Almonds
INGREDIENTS:
Crust
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons ground unblanched almonds

Filling
1 1/2 lbs. fresh figs, washed and halved lengthwise, left unpeeled
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw, flavorful honey (e.g., orange blossom)
1 tablespoon superfine flour (Wondra)
Butter 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place sugar in a mixing bowl and pour in cooled melted butter and extracts and stir to blend. Add flour and salt and stir to moisten. (Don’t over mix-you want a crumbly mixture.) Pour mixture into prepared tart pan and press mixture evenly up sides and bottom of pan. Bake on middle rack of the oven until slightly puffy and barely set, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle ground almonds on the crust.
Arrange the fig halves in the lightly baked tart shell at a slight angle in concentric circles starting on outer edge and moving to center. In a medium bowl, combine cream, egg, extracts and honey and whisk to blend. Whisk in flour. Pour cream mixture over figs in tart pan. Place tart on a sheet pan and place on middle rack in oven. Bake at 375 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until filling is firm and pastry is golden brown.

Cool slightly on a rack.
If desired, melt 1/4 cup of apricot jam with 1 tablespoon of apricot brandy (or other fruit flavored brandy) and brush onto figs to glaze. (You will not need all of mixture). Remove from tart pan and serve.
SOURCE: First Place Winner, Adult Division, Penelope Kenez, Harvest Festival 2006

Vinegared dishes in Japan are called sunomono as su means vinegar in Japanese. Sunomono has a light, clean taste and goes with many types of dishes. Try this dressing on finely sliced cucumbers (get out the mandoline), a bit of daikon (Japanese radish), scallions and carrots.  If you want to be adventurous, put few tiny raw scallops and a slice of raw salmon, along with a little dollop of crab meat (steam these if you’re squeamish). Then sprinkle with sesame seeds.  This recipe is from a fabulous web site, www.edibleparadise.com and was contributed by Chef Andrew Cohen, Chef in Residence, Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets.
INGREDIENTS
Rice vinegar
Dashi (see below)
5 large spoonfuls of sugar
DIRECTIONS
Rice vinegar to the ½ blue mark on the SaladSuccess Shaker
Dashi to the top  vinegar line
Add sugar
Shake vigorously in the SaladSuccess Shaker
Pour over salad
In small bowl, whisk all ingredients vigorously until sugar goes into suspension.

Chef Andrew has provided a dashi recipe at Edible Paradise.  Dashi is the stock used in Japanese cuisine.  It’s made with kelp and bonito flakes, all available at Asian markets. Instant dashi powder is also available at stores. Use it if you are time-limited. Usually, about 1 tsp of dashi powder is used for 3 to 5 cups of water. Just follow the instructions on the package.

I love poppy seed dressing over tart apples such as Pippin or Granny Smith, various finely sliced cabbages, and a couple handfuls of chopped walnuts.  However you might try it on baby spinach leaves, paper-thin slices of red onion, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries and almond slivers.  It’s that sweet/sour mix that is so exciting for our palates

INGREDIENTS

Oil – canola or vegetable

White wine vinegar

4 large spoonfuls of honey or sugar

2 spoonfuls dry mustard
2 large spoonfuls poppy seeds

A dash or two of salt

DIRECTIONS

Oil to the ½ blue mark of the SaladSuccess shaker

White wine vinegar to the ¾ blue oil mark

Add honey or sugar, dry mustard, poppy seeds and salt

Shake vigorously in SaladSuccess shaker

Chill and shake again before serving (you’ll need to open the top or else the poppy seeds with clog the poppet top)