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

lemoncello1Have you ever have everything coming together as a perfect moment? A crystallized memory or a snapshot in time that captures the essence of total happiness?  Sometimes the moment occurs during a wonderful meal with friends and family, sometimes on a trip or sometimes you just sit down and appreciate life and your surroundings.

This week I went back to Princeton, NJ for my 40th high school reunion.  I couldn’t ask for a more perfect visit.  The weather ranged from monsoon-like rains to hot and humid days, the food was average at best, and the cities of Philadelphia and New York were crowded, dirty and noisy.  Yet it was a perfect stay since I was able to reconnect with old school friends and my love for Princeton.

When I was a child my first glimpse of Princeton was in the month of January.  It was early evening, and the streets were slick and shiny from the snow run-off.  The world was black and white with twinkling street lights that gave off the romance of gaslight.  This time when I returned, the streets had been newly washed from the rain, night was falling, and the street lamps still held their magic, highlighting the beauty of the town.  Once again, I was home.

It was a weekend of bike rides thru the majestic chestnut trees that lined the old streets and the institutions, of meeting with old friends and new partners, and of seeing the fresh and hopeful faces entering the university and parting with their parents.  Overnight stays with girlfriends, breakfast with old friends and tears with close friends.

Quickly I realized that to these old and dear friends, nothing I could do or say would ever change their memories of me as fun short girl with long red hair. These were my deepest and fondest friendships, and that what ever happens to us in life, as best said by the Beatles in Across the Universe, “nothing’s gonna change my world”. So before I leave you with a wonderful recipe, inspired by the great Andy Delany, Princeton High School Class of ’69, here are the parting lyrics by John and Paul.

…Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views inviting and inciting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a
Million suns, it calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing’s gonna change my world,
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Limoncello Cardamom Tapioca Pudding

INGREDIENTS

1/3 cup of sugar

3 cups instant tapioca like Minute® Tapioca

2 ½ cups milk – whole or 2 percent

1 egg

¼ – ½ cup of Limoncello

1 teaspoon vanilla

For Whipping Cream

½ pint of heavy whipping cream

¼ cup of sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

Cardamom

Sprigs of mint

DIRECTIONS

Mix tapioca, sugar, milk and egg in sauce pan – let stand for 5 minutes

While constantly stirring, cook on medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil

Remove from heat and add vanilla and limoncello and mix

Spoon into dishes and put plastic wrap on surface of pudding

Cool in refrigerator

Before servicing, make whipped cream – with mixer on highest setting beat cream, sugar and ½ teaspoon vanilla until the cream can hold up a spoon.

Spoon on top of the pudding.

Lightly sprinkle cardamom and garnish with mint.

Use a good sifter to sprinkle the powdered cocoa

Use a good sifter to sprinkle the powdered cocoa

Recently, my thoughts have been wandering around a bit about the concept of family and food.  The typical scene it evocates is the picture of the extend family, including Uncle Billy, sitting around the dining room table while Mom brings out the Thanksgiving turkey.  In my house, the Thanksgiving scene is somewhat different.  We are gone, split, vamoose.  After 360ish days a year of making dinner, this reluctant cook wants a real break.  So we head up to San Francisco and have that great meal in the company of 40 other friends and family.  It’s an amazing pot luck meal (no, I don’t bring the salad) and every year we come home having made new friends.  But that’s not the family concept that I’ve been thinking about, it’s more about mothers, recipes and continuation.

My wonderful French mother, a cook of cooks, has been slowing down for the last four years.  Her balance is gone, her speech is disintegrating, and her memory is weakening.  During the past four years, I’ve been bringing her to my house so she can speak with her granddaughters and have dinner with the family.  To her annoyance, she can no longer follow a recipe, and her glorious Charlotte Russe is now a soggy mess of ladyfingers and coffee pudding.

My mother didn’t start as a great cook.  She started out as a competent secretary for a furrier in Paris.  After WWII, her mother, three other sisters, and a brother moved from Tarascon to the bright lights.  I only assume that her mother cooked while the girls went off to work.  Mom didn’t inherit any great cooking skills from her mother, and any ancestral knowledge disappeared in Auschwitz.

However, life changed and she married an American, who brought her to the United States in the early ’50’s.  Once people found out that she was French, their replay was “You must be a terrific cook”.  And so the legend was created.  Mom studied cookbooks, learned techniques, tested and retested recipes, and became a great cook before Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was in print.

Now, in my mother’s head were thousands of recipes, and techniques.  As she got into her ’80’s this knowledge is disappearing.  It’s a good thing that I have been able to learn from her as my daughters are learning from me.  Suzanne is a fabulous baker, and Christie now can make spaghetti and meatballs.  So find those old wonderful recipes, and learn from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles their secrets. Oh yes, and now you can make the glorious Charlotte Russe à la Mina (in honor of my mother). And it is easy!

Glorious Charlotte Russe a la Mina

This is a two-step recipe; first you make the coffee cognac gelatin, then once it is cool, you mix it in a bowl of freshly-whipped heavy cream and pour it into a spring pan lined with lady fingers and chill until serving time.

INGREDIENTS

1 tsp. powder expresso coffee

2 packets of unflavored gelatin

1 cup of sugar

3 cups of whole milk

1/8 cup of cognac

1 tsp. vanilla

1 pint of heavy whipping cream

2 packets of ladyfingers*

Instructions

In a heavy pot, heat milk, expresso, gelatin, sugar and whole milk until sugar and gelatin are melted (just before the boil).  Stir often.  When mixture is melted, take mixture off of the burner, and add the cognac.  Cool for ½ hour.  Place in refrigerator for 2 hours (approx).  You want this cold but not like harden aspic (if that happen, just whip it in the mixer once you’ve made the whipped cream – trust me, I’ve done it).

charlotte-15charlotte23Using parchment or wax paper, trace the bottom of the spring pan, cut and place.  Then do the same for the sides of the spring pan.  This is done so you can easily separate the spring pan from the charlotte. Split the ladyfingers and place it around the sides. Do the same for the bottom of the pan using torn pieces to cover any holes.

On the high setting of your mixer, whip the cream and vanilla until the whip cream can hold up a spoon.  Add gelatin mixture and mix until it is blended.  Pour into the spring pan.  Decorate with powder cocoa or semi-sweet chocolate shavings.  At serving time, open the spring pan, and remove the paper around the sides.  To really dress this up, run a ribbon and tie a bow around the outside.

*Sometimes stores don’t carry ladyfingers but instead their bakery department can sell them to you.  They only buy them to make their cakes.  So if you can’t find ladyfingers, just ask in the bakery department.