Friday, February 1, 2013

Birthday cakes for Peter H.

Some birthdays call for something special, especially when those birthdays happen to favorite people who are getting on in years. So several Saturdays ago, I made two French genoise for a gentleman whose creative life has given the world of religious music some rich and notable compositions. Each three-layer cake is infused with a cognac and coffee blend and garnished with toasted walnuts and (edible) silver dragees; one cake is frosted with a coffee/cognac French buttercream, the other with a chocolate/cognac French buttercream. Yum. Or as the French say, "Miam."
Sigh. Why would anyone want anything but a liqueur-infused cake topped (and filled) with a French buttercream? I don't understand.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gluten-free, French tart pastry

When I was diagnosed recently as gluten intolerant, I knew the doctor had it wrong. But three days without gluten (and a gluten binge that brought back previous symptoms) made me change my tune! So I've set off to learn to make desserts, breads and pastries that met my persnickety standards...and this tart is the first dessert to make the grade. It was inspired by the blog La Tartine Gourmande but I changed the ingredients and replaced her technique with the French pastry techniques I learned at Le Cordon Bleu-Paris, which will give you a lighter dough.
Bon appétit!

Gluten-Free French Tart Pastry

100 g millet four
100 g brown rice flour
pinch sea salt
1.5 tsp xanthan gum*
100 g unsalted butter, cold and diced, preferably French butter (Celles sur Belle excellent)
1 large egg yolk
5 T ice water, more as needed

Combine flours in mixing bowl, using regular wire beater. Add butter and mix about five minutes, until dough is somewhat crumbly. Add egg yolk and blend in. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, just until mixture feels evenly moist.

Gather dough with hands and bring together gently into a smooth ball; fraisage** the dough in the bowl or on counter top. Make dough into a ball, then press it lightly into a disk about an inch thick. Wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes. Proceed as with regular pastry.

*Available at health food stores
** Fraisage is a French technique that consists of gathering  a few tablespoons of dough and pushing it away with the heel of your hand, smearing it against the bowl or counter surface. It allows the baker to blend the dough without making it tough.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Black Japanese Rice Salad

My acupuncturist insists that darker-colored foods are best for us. More minerals, he says, in sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, dark red beets instead of yellow beets, dark leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce -- and dark rice instead of white rice.
Since he's helped heal me, I listen. And even though I love white rice -- it is what I was raised on, after all, I sometimes take the time to make brown rice (60 minutes, minimum) or even black rice (50 to 60 minutes). The shelves are filling up with rich-colored rices and, since it's my job to try new things, I have. Black Japanese rice is not only like a short-grained version of wild rice (and a lot cheaper), but it's easier to prepare as there's no last-minutes draining and fluffing to do. And it's not uniformly black, like Forbidden Rice, but a lovely mixture of browns, blacks and mahoganies.
The dark and bright colors in this salad make it a stunning dish -- and it tastes good, too! Feel free to throw in whatever vegetables and nuts you have in the refrigerator. I did. Just remember to chop them small so they'll be easy to eat with the small grains of black and mahogany rice.
So, here's to health and to an easy fall salad to have on hand.

P.S. Just discovered this makes a tasty, quick lunch if you stuff it into a sprouted corn tortilla* with lightly salted arugula and creme fraiche! First, get out a heavy frying pan and put about 1/8 " of oil in it and heat to about 350 degrees. Slide a tortilla in, cook about a minute, turn, cook another minute. Hold above the pan to drain. Quickly stuff with 2 tablespoons rice, a small handful of arugula and top with a generous tablespoon or two of creme fraiche. Fold over. Eat. Yum!
 *Sprouted tastes better and fresher and probably has health benefits, too
Black Japanese Rice, Fennel
and Pine Nut Salad

½ c black Japanese rice*
1 c water
pinch salt
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
2 small fennel stalks, sliced or shaved very thinly across the grain
½ c corn, cooked
¼ c finely chopped Italian parsley
1 small carrot, finely grated
¼ c pine nuts

¼ c extra virgin olive oil
¼ c lemon juice
½ tsp salt, to taste
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ - 1 tsp freshly ground cumin, to taste
1 clove garlic, minced to yield ½ tsp - 1 tsp

Rinse rice, drain. Place in small pan, add water and salt, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook 50-60 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Set aside.
Make dressing by whisking lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil.
When rice has cooled to lukewarm, add dressing and blend gently, just until dressing is evenly distributed through the grains. Add other ingredients, season to taste and enjoy.

Serves 4

*Available at PCC Markets in Seattle area or other gourmet food markets

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fufu -- I'm told it's like crack

I may think I'm specializing in French-influenced food but life took me on a detour by way of the Middle East and Haiti this weekend. The husband of an acquaintance passed away and his widow wanted a reception menu featuring his fav foods. This was one cosmopolitan dude and his food choices reflected that. Dish number one -- Lamb Mishmisheya, is an Armenian/Turkish dish composed of lamb meatballs spiced with dried lemon powder, clove and allspice, wallowing in a rich sauce of Turkish apricots, raisins and honey. Dish number two was a Haitian/Cuban concoction of ripe, mashed plantain (nope, never used them before!)into which was folded black beans, sauteed onions, garlic and enough bacon to decimate the population of a pigpen the size of a Romney mansion. It's called fufu and yeah, it was good! The chefs could hardly wait to yank it from the buffet table so we could sneak tastes. And more tastes. And more. Addictive -- and it's not even pretty. Tested the recipe and ate it for dinner. And breakfast, wrapped in a corn tortilla. And dinner....  

Black Beans and Fufu

1 lb bacon*, sliced in ¼ “ thick strips
canola oil, as needed
1 28-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 ripe** plantains, cut in 1-inch slices
1 small sweet onion, like a Walla Walla, cut in ½ inch dice
8 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt
lime, cilantro

Saute bacon or bake bacon strips at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes on cookie sheet covered with aluminum-foil lightly oiled with canola oil to prevent sticking. Saute or bake until the strips have rendered their fat and are just starting to crisp and color. Set aside, saving bacon fat, if any. Using saved fat and supplementing with canola oil, saute onions until translucent, about two minutes. Add garlic and saute a minute or so. Set aside. Fill a large pan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the plantains, reduce heat to simmer and cook until they’re soft and the tip of a knife inserted in them comes out easily, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Mash with a potato masher. Return bacon, onions and garlic to saute pan and add plantains, mixing and heating over medium heat for a few minutes to warm and blend flavors. Fold in black beans and mix, slightly mashing some of them. Season to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if you wish, and serve with wedges of lime. Makes 7 to 8 cups.
*If you're in the Pacific Northwest, by all means try the bacon from Skagit River Ranch, available at some Seattle-area farmers markets
 **As black as possible. No kidding.  

Lamb Mishmisheya (Meesh Muh SHY ah)

1 onion, chopped
1/4 c canola oil, plus 1 tsp
1-1/2 lbs ground lamb
1 tsp dried, finely ground lemon powder, or omani, available online from Middle Eastern stores)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp salt pepper
1/4 c tomato paste
8 ounces dried, unsulphered Turkish apricots***, halved
1/4 c raisins or currants
2 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey

Soak the apricots in hot water for about half an hour. Drain, saving soaking water.
Saute the onion until translucent and starting to caramelize. Set aside. Mix the lamb with the dried lemon powder, cloves, allspice, salt and pepper, mixing the minimum amount necessary to blend so as not to toughen the meat. Then, using a small scoop with bowl about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, make about 45 meatballs and set aside. Put the meatballs on a cooking sheet lightly oiled with 1 tsp canola oil.
Bake in 400-degree oven for about 25 minutes, or saute meatballs in the pan in which you sauteed the onions, until done. Drain off lamb fat. Add the meatballs to the pan and add onions, tomato paste, apricots, raisins or currants, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper and cover with soaking water and additional water. Simmer about an hour, uncovered. Season to taste. Serves 8

***Available at PCC Natural Markets

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tea for a summer day

Tea from the Garden

My friend, Virginia, created a lovely garden design for me. Through the years, I've followed it bit by bit and one feature, my raised bed garden in the front, pleases me no end. Except for the pesky lemon balm that keeps popping up, elbowing itself into spaces meant for better-behaved, purchased plants. So I decided to eat it. Internauts say it's good for indigestion, insomnia, heart trouble, anxiety. Last year, I made it into Lemon Balm Sorbet. Fabulous. This year, I felt cranky and unwilling to go to the effort, so I clipped a handful of the most prominent patch, plunged it in water to rinse it and stuffed it in my teapot, stems and all. Plus water to to the top of the leaves. Let it steep, oh, 20 minutes. Took my French grandma's heavy old glass pitcher, spooned out a big glob of honey, poured the tea in. And water. And ice cubes. And, as grandma would have said, "oh-la-laaaa!" It was so delicious that I made another batch -- half chocolate mint, half lemon balm. Also delicious, and so cooling on a day of record heat. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

And you've never heard of Aleppo?

Well, neither had I, though I had heard of the pepper named after Syria's second largest city. So when I heard the name on the radio the other day, I thought of the people involved in the rebellion -- and, in an example of how the tragic relates to the mundane, I thought of the pepper I had purchased a few months ago for some forgotten recipe that was sitting in my pantry. Their pepper. Perhaps it still held its fragrance, which is sort of mildly smoky but nothing like the smoked Spanish pepper, pimenton de la vera, which is delicious and would work well here, too.
So I got out my mini-processor, dumped in some beans and searched the fridge and the pantry for inspiration and voilà! A fresh dip, with hints of Syria and France, in 15 minutes.

Aleppo Pepper White Bean Dip

1-15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed, or the equivalent amount cooked beans
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 T extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp garlic powder (or about 1/4 tsp chopped garlic)
2 tsp chopped parsley
¾ tsp Madeline Kamman blend pepper*, or ground white and black pepper mixed in equal proportions
2 T water
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper, Pimenton de la Vera or other chili powder
½ tsp pink Himalayan (or other high-quality) salt

Blend in mini-blender. Season to taste.

*White and black pepper in equal proportions and allspice equal to about one-sixth of that amount

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Strawberries and Roses, a Pavlova variation

My nice neighbors were clearly shocked when I told them I grew my Zepherine Drouhin roses so I could eat them. Last year I put them in lemonade; this year, they topped the Pavlova I took to a chef's gathering, eliciting many oohs and aahs from this presumably jaundiced group!
So...go back to the earlier post and make your Pavlova and Chantilly cream. Then use only the smallest (which are the sweetest) strawberries from your garden or the farmer's market -- or the grocery store if you must, and gleefully toss them on top of the gently whipped cream. Next, take one unsprayed, preferably highly scented, rose blossom and pull off the petals and scatter them over and around the Pavlova. Or, if this puts you in a romantic mood, skip the Pavlova and just scatter the petals on your cool, immaculate bed! Then jump in! At any rate, enjoy!