Apricot tartFor me, an apricot tarte, tartlette or danish, is my idea of comfort food especially if it comes out warm from the oven.  In fact I usually am a sucker for anything with apricots, fresh or dried.  It has something to do with an incredibly sweet and tart taste. I like to make my tarte by marinating the apricots in marsala, but you can skip that step if you want.  The tarte will still be a gift from the Gods.  So instead of waxing on about my misspent youth, downing apricots in Aunt Kay’s backyard, I am going to get straight to the point of this post, the makings of a great tarte.  BTW when ever I make apricot tarte, there are NO leftovers, so you might want to consider doubling and  baking two tartes at the same time.

Dough – Prep – 10 minutes, chilling – 1 hour, rolling – 10 minutes, cooking – 10 – 15 minutes

The standard ratio is 1 cup of flour for each stick of butter. This makes enough dough for a pie crust. However, if you want the dough to be more buttery, add a ½ stick of butter. If you want the dough to be flakey, add lard. Butter and water must be cold. Add just enough ice cold water to get the dough and butter to stick, usually about ¼ cup, and a dash of salt. You can add sugar (about a tablespoon) to sweeten the dough. Remember to let the dough rest for 2 hours before using. What I usually do is make enough dough for 4 pies in the food processor, and divide in 4 balls. The other 3 doughs are put in the freezer wrapped in plastic wrap or a plastic bag.

1 cup of sifted unbleached flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter (I use to love Plugra, but now can’t find it at Trader Joe’s) or more
¼ cup of ice water
1 dash (up to 1/8 teaspoon) of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar (optional)

In the food processor with the metal blade, add butter, flour, salt and sugar. Pulse for 10 times. Add water while continuing to pulse until dough starts to firm up as if to make a ball. Flour lightly the dough ball and place in plastic wrap or wax paper. Place in refrigerator to rest.
Set the oven at 350 degrees. Using flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work area and the rolling pin, roll out the dough for ¼ inch thickness and place in a 9 inch pie plate or a ceramic quiche and tarte dish. Trim the edges, and prick the surface of the dough heavily. Line the shell with aluminum foil, or waxed or parchment paper and fill with dried beans to prevent puffing and bake for 10-15 minutes, until it is golden brown. Cool slightly.

Apricots and Custard Filling – Set oven at 375 degrees. Prep time -1 hour for marinating apricots, Rest of the prep -20 minutes, Baking time 40 – 50 minutes

10 large apricots – Blenheims are wonderful. Slice in 1/8ths if the apricots are large. If you have smaller apricots, cut in quarters (you’ll probably need 12 – 15 small apricots. Marinate in sweet wine/sherry such as madeira, or marsala for an hour.

Custard Filling
1 ½ cups of milk or cream depending how rich you want the custard – I usually do a mixture or use 1/2 and 1/2.
1 tsp almond extract
3 egg yolks
1 egg
1/3 cup of sugar
Freshly grated nutmeg

In a small sauce pan, bring milk/cream to a boil and remove immediately from heat. In a bowl beat egg yolks, whole egg, almond extract and slowly add the sugar. Once mixture is light and fluffy gradually beat in the scalded milk/cream combination.

Arrange apricots in the cooked pie shell and cover with custard. Add custard until it covers the apricots. Cook for 40 – 50 minutes until custard sets. Cool down and serve. You can add strawberries and sliced roasted almonds for a garnish.

Rose's Picture of 'Woody's Cake". Someone punched up the yellow!

Things have changed on my home front.  My mother Mina, the creator of the Glorious Charlotte Russe, fell and smashed her shoulder two months ago.  Now she is in a free-falling descent and is under 24/7 care.  No longer do I pick her up every night to have dinner at my house, or even prepare a dinner to be served at her house.  She can hardly move, has no balance, has limited speech and horrible coughing  jags while she eats. So what can I do to cheer her up?

Easy.  Once a week, we have cake night.  Supposedly, I spend a couple hours making a fab new cake recipe and the whole family meets at her house around 9 pm to have cake and light  conversation about the previous week.  Then, much to the joy of my mother and the caregivers, I leave them one half of the cake.  Mom then has dessert for 4 – 5 days, which seems to be the highlight of her day.  The first week, I tried the Mary Todd Lincoln’s Vanilla Almond Cake which we all loved.

My good friend Patricia Raines, the Vanilla Queen, recommended a cook book called “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes” by Rose Levy Beranbaum, the cake goddess.  After seeing the photos, how could I not resist making a cake from her delicious book?  In fact the book is so beautiful, that Christie and I sat down and went thru the book, marking our favorites.  Since Mémé (my mother) loves lemons, we decided to make Rose’s majestic Woody’s Lemon Luxury Layer Cake.

My "Woody's" Cake

Now, I am never one to be intimidated, but a 4-page recipe for cake is a little daunting.  Beware, Rose Beranbaum is an obsessive baker and minutely precise in her instructions.  So although this recipe is intense, there is no room for failure if you follow (to the book) her instructions.  However this recipe took me 11 hours to make.

Admittedly, I am a little slow whenever I face a new complex recipe, but as they say, this one took the cake. Plus it was very expensive to make with 23 eggs, 3 bars of good white chocolate and 3 sticks of butter. And I had to cheat since the finished cake needed to be refrigerated for an hour and I had 15 minutes to make it to Mom’s house.

Was it worth the effort?  Well, when we tasted our fabulous cake, sighs of ecstasy went around the table.  Would I make this cake again if it took half the time?  I don’t know.  It is truly a great recipe, the butter icing is to die for, but shoot me if I try this again.  However next week, Rose’s Chocolate Velvet Fudge Cake sounds promising, and the recipe is only 1.5 pages long.

If you are a cake freak, do buy this book.  My only reservation is the picture of Woody’s Lemon Cake does not represent the final product.  It is a light yellow and cream colored cake instead of the glowing bright yellow cake with glistening icing shown in the book.

I wouldn’t even dare copying the recipe to put on my blog, since it is a work of art, but instead am leaving you with the excellent Mary Todd Lincoln’s Vanilla Almond Cake.  It is quick, easy and the frosting is wonderful.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s Vanilla Almond Cake:  Ready in: 1-2 hrs, serves 12

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cup milk
1 cup almonds, finely chopped
6 egg whites, stiffly beaten
White Frosting
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 dash salt
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Set oven temperature to 375 degrees

Cream together sugar, butter, and vanilla extract.

Stir together the cake flour and baking powder; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Stir in almonds. Gently fold in the egg whites. Pour into two greased and lightly floured 9 x 1 1/2-inch round baking pans. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans. Fill and frost with White Frosting.

White Frosting: In a saucepan, combine sugar, water, cream of tartar and salt. Bring mixture to boiling, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

In mixing bowl place egg whites; very slowly pour the hot sugar syrup over, beating constantly with electric mixer until stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract.



When Warren & I were living in Colorado Springs and planning out our wedding, a lovely couple moved in next door and we invited them over for dinner.  I can’t remember their names, but let’s call them Heather and Jim (isn’t everyone named Heather?).  Heather said she’d make the dessert and after a lovely barbeque at our house, Heather whipped out the dessert, which looked lovely and was to die for.  What was this divine concoction – Yogurt Cream Pie.  When Heather told me how to make it, I was stunned.  This broke every concept of what I learned about cooking.  All it took was a store-bought graham cracker or cookie pie shell, a container (6 – 8 ounces) of a flavored yogurt, and a container (regular size) of Cool Whip.  I’ll write this out recipe-style.

Over the years I’ve taught single men how to make this dessert and it has become, to some people, a food group.  You can class up yogurt pie by making your own pie crust with cookie crumbs such as ginger snaps, Lorna Doones, pecan sandies, peanut butter, chocolate and vanilla wafers.  You’ll need about a half a box of cookies crumbled.  For a filing you can use Greek yogurt (flavored or add fruit) and make your own whipped cream with a pint of heavy cream, sugar and a tsp. of vanilla.  Whether you go for the easiest method, or make it from scratch, it is wonderful.

YOGURT CREAM PIE

1 small container of (6 to 8 ounces) yogurt

1 pie shell

1 regular container of Cool Whip – make sure that it is soft by defrosting it in the refrigerator

Mix well yogurt and Cool Whip.  Add fruit (berries, bananas etc) if you wish.  Pour mixture into pie shell and freeze for ½ to 1 hour.  Top with chocolate shavings or fruit.

Crust– 10 minutes active time, 10 minutes baking time

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers) or dry cookies such as gingersnaps

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 stick of melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.  In a large bowl combine sugar and graham crackers.  Add melted butter and mix well.  Press mixture into a pie pan – I used a fluted, ceramic tart pan.  Bake for 10 minutes and cool.

Whipped Cream – 5 minutes active time

1 pint heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and whip until mixture is stiff and can hold a spoon upright.

Have you noticed the price at the decent bakeries for pies and cakes?  Two weeks ago I choked when I paid for a cherry pie – $26.  To add insult to injury, some bakeries are charging more than $40 for a strawberry short cake.  Even though the cherry pie was excellent, I can’t afford to continue in this direction.

Last week was my mother’s birthday (the big 85), and sitting on my counter was a bag of Key limes that I purchased for $3.  Now my mother loves lemon meringue pies, and never had the courage to make them so when I offered to make her a Key lime pie, she jumped at the offer.

These pies are easy, spectacular and very affordable.  Plus you can use this recipe for Key limes, regular limes and lemons.  Key limes are about ½ the size of regular limes (or lemons), so you will need at least double the amount of fruit.  Don’t mess around making a traditional pie crust but try a simple graham cracker crust.  For the meringue topping, put the meringue in a pastry bag (get a real big one – mine is a 20”).

I’m lucky that I even got a picture of the pie before it went into the oven to cook the meringue.  When I brought it to the table, my group of lime lovers devoured the pie.  And it cost me so little to make – probably under $5.

KEY LIME MERINGUE PIE– give yourself time, about 2 hours before serving, to start the pie.  It is a 3-step process; crust, filling and meringue topping.

Crust – 10 minutes active time, 10 minutes baking time

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 stick of melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.  In a large bowl combine sugar and graham crackers.  Add melted butter and mix well.  Press mixture into a pie pan – I used a fluted, ceramic tart pan.  Bake for 10 minutes and cool.

Filling – 15 minutes active time, 1 hour cooling time

1 cup of sugar

¼ cup flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ tsp salt

2 cups water

3 eggs, separated

1 tablespoon butter

¼ cup fresh lime juice – approx 10 – 12 Key limes or 5-6 limes/ lemons

Grated rind of 1 lime (2 key limes)

Combine sugar, flour cornstarch and salt in a saucepan and gradually stir in water.  Cool, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Gradually stir the mixture into the beaten egg yolks, return to low heat and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Stir in the butter, lime juice and rind and cool slightly.  Pour into the baked graham cracker shell and cool. Put in refrigerator

Meringue Topping – 15 minutes active time, 1 hour cool down.

3 egg whites

¼ tsp cream of tartar

6 tablespoons sugar

Preheated oven at 425 degrees. Beat the egg whites until lift and frothy.  Add cream of tartar and continue beating until the whites are stiff enough to hold a peak.

Gradually beat in sugar and beat until meringue is stiff and glossy (or stand up a spoon).

Pile meringue lightly on cooled pie filling, spreading it until it touches the edges of the crust to prevent the meringue from shrinking.  If you prefer (I do), put meringue into a pastry bag with a large tip and twist down the top of the bag so that the meringue is forced to squeeze out. Decorate the top of the pie, always making sure the meringue touches the edges of the crust. Bake for 5 to six minutes until top is brown.  Let pie cool down and refrigerator.

Graham cracker crust recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

Filling and meringue topping recipes courtesy of The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne

I just love it when the kids take over.  That’s what happened to me on Valentine’s Day.  My youngest took over the kitchen (yes baby, keep it up) and made us dinner which was a doctored pizza.  But more importantly, she called up a girlfriend and made Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake.  So for all of you out there who worry about not being able to bake, listen to me.  A 12 year old baking novice was able to make this beauty without the help of Mom.  So go for it.  This is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had and like all of Ina Garten’s recipes, this one is foolproof.  Just remember to first line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper, and then grease the pans including the paper.  Due to health reasons, I do not add the extra large egg yolk that is called for in the frosting – who needs salmonella?

And I truly apologize about picture.  By the time I had decided to fete the cake, my family ate 3/4’s of it.  To make the matter worse, after I took these pictures, I realized that they were awful and THE CAKE WAS ALL GONE!

Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten “Barefoot Contessa”

Ingredients

  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans (King Arthur’s Flour)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

Directions

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut) – I use Ghiradelli

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract – I use the Vanilla Company

1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Once upon a time, a young man (he who will not be named) and a young lady (Me, who else) went out to a Valentine’s Day dinner at the finest restaurant in the Philadelphia Main Line area (which is where the rich and the very rich once lived).  The food was bland, the service was pretentious, and the prices were astronomical.  The young lady and the young man spent the best part of the snickering and laughing about the dinner especially when the obsequious waiter opened their bottle of champagne, which was done with a flourish of a white serviette and ended with a shooting cork and a spray of the bubbly.

However when the dessert was brought to the table, it was a different story.  Sweet, creamy and tantalizing, the young man and lady lapped up their delectable goodie and purred at the end of the meal over glasses of Grand Marnier.  “Now that was perfect”, said the young man sitting comfortably in his chair.  “Yes, and it was a no-brainer to make.  Plus fast and easy”, added the young lady.

So here it is, a delectable morsel from my past to bring love to you and your partner.  Or just make it for yourself and cherish it while taking a warm soak in a hot tub.

Berries in the Snow – Prep – 10 minutes, No cooking – for 2 to 4 people depending on the size of your goblets

2 pints of sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or any combination – cleaned.  Save a couple for decoration

3 tablespoons of raspberry or cassis liquor – I used Chambord

Sugar

2 pints of heavy whipped cream

1 tsp of vanilla – I love the vanilla from  the Vanilla Queen

Wedge of chocolate or a cookie – I used a wedge from Ghiradelli Chocolate (hazelnut)

In a medium glass bowl mix liquor with a teaspoon of sugar, and add berries.  Let sit while making whipped cream.  Using a mixer, put cream in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.  You can add more sugar if you want it sweeter.  Whip until the cream is stiff enough to hold up a spoon.

I used glass wine goblets from Cost Plus that were large and have an open  mouth, unlike some goblets that are tulip-shaped.   This allows you to get the berries into the goblet easily.  If you want to be really fancy, run the liquor around the rim of the glass, and then on a plate with sugar, place the mouth of the goblet into the sugar (same technique used for margaritas).  Put the berries into the goblet, and any of the remaining liquor.  Then using a tip and plastic pastry bag filled with the whipped cream, fill the rest of the goblet (or skip the finer touch and drop in spoonfuls of whipped cream into the goblet).  Decorate with the remaining berries and a wedge of chocolate or cookie.  Put into the refrigerator until serving time (about 1 hour).

finished-pear-tarteI hate ants and this is the time of year that they are on their Sunbird migratory path, straight for my honeys.  So I, the Dark Lord, have been trying various deterrents to help them decide that my kitchen is a truly hostile environment.  So far they’ve ignored the toxic chalk that I can no longer get in Chinatown, and Windex.  But Gold Seal Foot Powder is holding the swarming mass back.  If that doesn’t work, I’ll try orange, lavender and peppermint essential oils.  Unfortunately, since half of the contents of my cabinet are on our kitchen island, the place looks once again, trashed.  It’s bad enough that I’m lousy at housekeeping, but when this happens, the disaster grows exponentially.

But on to a more pleasant subject, the Pear & Almond Custard Tarte.  I’ve made this little beauty for years when the pears are in season.  It’s always a big hit for the Thanksgiving party at my cousin Aislinn in San Francisco where we know that everyone there has a more refined palate than the hicks from Santa Cruz.  This year I promised Aislinn the recipe so (weep) here it is.  And of course you’ll have to deal with my philosophy of dough.

The Immensely Popular Pear & Almond Custard Tarte

pie-doughDOUGH – Prep – 10 minutes, chilling – 1 hour, rolling – 10 minutes, cooking – 10 – 15 minutes The standard ratio is 1 cup of flour for each stick of butter.  This makes enough dough for a pie crust.  However, if you want the dough to be more buttery, add a ½ stick of butter.  If you want the dough to be flakey, add lard.  Butter and water must be cold.  Add just enough ice cold water to get the dough and butter to stick, usually about ¼ cup, and a dash of salt.  You can add sugar (about a tablespoon) to sweeten the dough.  Remember to let the dough rest for 2 hours before using.  What I usually do is make enough dough for 4 pies in the food processor, and divide in 4 balls.  The other 3 doughs are put in the freezer wrapped in plastic wrap or a plastic bag.

1 cup of sifted unbleached flour

1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter (I use to love Plugra, but now can’t find it at Trader Joe’s) or more

¼ cup of ice water

1 dash (up to 1/8 teaspoon) of salt

1 tablespoon of sugar (optional)

In the food processor with the metal blade, add butter, flour, salt and sugar.  Pulse for 10 times.  Add water while continuing to pulse until dough starts to firm up as if to make a ball.  Flour lightly the dough ball and place in plastic wrap or wax paper.  Place in refrigerator to rest.

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Using flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work area and the rolling pin, roll out the dough for ¼ inch thickness and place in a 9 inch pie plate or a ceramic quiche and tarte dish.  Trim the edges, and prick the surface of the dough heavily.  Line the shell with aluminum foil, or waxed or parchment paper and fill with dried beans to prevent puffing and bake for 10-15 minutes, until it is golden brown.  Cool slightly.

PEAR AND ALMOND CUSTARD FILLING – Set oven at 375 degrees.  Prep time -20 minutes, Baking time 40 – 50 minutes

1 pound peeled & sliced pears – I like Anjou and Comice

pears-for-tarte2Custard

1 ½ cups of milk or cream depending how rich you want the custard – I usually do a mixture

1 tsp almond extract

3 egg yolks

1 egg

1/3 cup of sugar

Freshly grated nutmeg

pear-tarte-with-custardIn a small sauce pan, bring milk/cream to a boil and remove immediately from heat.    In a bowl beat egg yolks, whole egg, almond extract and slowly add the sugar.  Once mixture is light and fluffy gradually beat in the scalded milk/cream combination.
Arrange pears in the cooked pie shell and cover with custard.  Add custard until it covers the pears.  Sprinkle lightly with grated nutmeg.  Cook for 40 – 50 minutes until custard sets.  Cool down and serve.

All of my love and best wishes for 2010.  XXXX Nadine

Clement Faugier Chestnut Spread Creme de Marrons de l'Ardeche -I can still remember it to this day.  It was a beautiful can, brown, blue, green and and gold curlicues with elegant French script.  In fact, it was too beautiful to be called a can; Boîte de Conserve would be a more honorable description.  “Créme de Marron” was written on the label.  I knew it held some wonderful secrets that were begging to be freed.  I knew that something wonderful would come out of that can.  Mom had taken the bus all the way to Georgetown just so she could buy the special can.

On New Year’s Eve she finally opened the beautiful Boîte.  Magic was happening in our little kitchen in Washington DC.  As I watched the snow falling on the black asphalt from our apartment window, I knew that my mother was concocting the most wonderful dessert in the world.  Even its name held the magic: Mont Blanc. It would be a special night with one of her amazing meals.

I can’t remember the main course or the little canapés, and I don’t remember the guests.  I just remember being called back from watching a TV Christmas special, sitting down at my little table (children did not eat with the adults), and looking at the concoction.

The lights were set low, and the candles were burning everywhere.  Still, in this romantic light, I could see the dessert set on my table.  It was whipped cream and this light grey stuff on a meringue.  “It’s a very wonderful French dessert, Cherie, everyone in France loves it.  Taste it, Nadine”, she whispered in my ear.

Nervously, I picked up my spoon.  After all, that cream stuff was grey.  I hesitate, quickly dunked the spoon in the cream, popped it in my mouth and swallowed.  I gagged.  It was the nastiest thing, next to oatmeal, that I had every eaten.  In fact, oatmeal and this blob had 2 features that were identical, they were both grey and they both had a nasty texture when swallowing.  This stuff was like swallowing cream with tiny hairs or sand particles. And the taste – bad, bad, bad.

“I hate it”, I cried out to my mom.  The look she sent back was scary. I was a traitor to fine cuisine, an oaf, not deserving her attention.  All the adult were swooning over the Mont Blanc. “Eat it”, she hissed back.  Slowly I made my way through the white whipped cream and meringue, leaving the grey amorphous matter on my plate.  “Eat it all”, she said with madness in her eyes.

Now when your mother is French with red hair, thus displaying an evil temper, and has worked all day on dinner and dessert, you learn not to tempt the fates by refusing a direct command.  So slowly I made my way thru the grey blob, gulping and choking while tears ran down my cheeks.  As she saw the blob disappear, my mother began to smile.  “There, wasn’t that better”, she said.  “No”, I replied, “It was awful.  I want TV”.  And thus I sealed my fate and was banished to my bedroom for the remainder of the evening.

Still to this day, I shudder about that meal, and will not try a spoonful of chestnut purée.  However in any other form, I love the nut.  Whether it be roasted, in marrons glacées or in meals.  This is now the season of fallen leaves, smoke leaving the chimneys, and chestnuts.  So before I part with you, I would like to leave a traditional French recipe of chestnuts and red cabbage. This is one of my favorite fall meals, and except for the peeling of the chestnuts, relatively simple and rich in taste.  Remember to keep your chestnuts in the fridge, otherwise they get wormy.

Chestnuts and Red Cabbage

INGREDIENTS

Medium size head of red cabbage, thinly sliced and rough chop

One onion, thinly sliced

1 lb of chestnuts

¼ cup water

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

Slice the skin of the chestnut with a sharp knife.  This keeps the chestnut from exploding.

Place the chestnuts in a pot of boiling water for approximately 10 minutes.

Drain the water, cool down the chestnuts and peel the nut from the skin using your knife.

In a good pot with a lid or Dutch oven, pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.

Sautee the onions, then add red cabbage, chestnuts and water. Stir and place lid on the pot.  In 10 minutes, reduce heat and let steam for 40 minutes. Salt and pepper to tast

Serve with a prime rib or roast.  A good red wine would top off this meal.

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.

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