Saturday, November 6, 2010

change and a fried apple pie

"No regrets." This is a phrase that goes through my head every time I have a big decision to make.  Weighing the options of the path ahead with the inevitable choices of things left behind.  This is especially difficult with regards to relationships.  Because so much of our lives revolve around those we interact with day after day.  There are those who inspire new ideas and stir passion within us.  Some people “sharpen” us through their personalities, sometimes revealing positive or negative things about us. 

Recently, with the acceptance of a new position in another company, I will no longer have the privilege of working with my fellow comrades whom I have grown to enjoy so much.  In the nature of this workplace, where you hit the ground running, there is seldom time for leisure “talk”.  Conversations are intermittent, like bullets shot out in passing, and since my workplace revolves around cooking, it is usually food related. There is never a day that goes by where ideas of new food combinations or recent culinary attempts good or bad are shared.  Jules, a fellow blogger (and amazing photographer) is always trying something new and to my great enjoyment usually brings in a sample or two to try.

With the onset of fall the fragrance of mulled cider wafts throughout the workplace, and has sparked many a conversation about other possible uses for the mulling spices.  Just the other day, our culinary director Rochelle came up with a spoon in her hand and told me to “open up”.  It was an ice cream base that she had infused with the mulling spices, creating a delicious crème anglaise that perfumed my head with cinnamon, allspice and star anise.  Lovely. 

There are many more folks I will also miss and all have a special place in my heart.  But the one whom I will look back on most and smile is my boss.  Probably the best descriptor of him is from a line in the movie Forrest Gump.  Forrest shares his moms’ idea of what life is likened: a “box of chocolates”.   In that, from day to day “you never know what you’re going to get”.  This has been my boss.  At one moment he’s a hurricane, ranting about and the next breaking out into show tunes (he has a very good singing voice by the way).  Working with him has caused my purchasing of antacid to go up dramatically.  But truth be told, I will miss him terribly.

So as a new chapter is beginning and I have the day off.  I think I will make some fried apple pies and a batch of Rochelle’s Spiced Vanilla Ice Cream to serve on the side.  Reflecting on the experiences and joys I’m leaving, but also looking forward to the adventure ahead. 

“Life is a journey along a bitter-sweet trail.  Sorry you faced the delivery of a difficult message today; we are so excited you are joining our team! Together through hard work, sense of true purpose and fun, we will assure this decision is the best one.”  

(A text I received from my new boss when I told her I officially gave my notice)

No regrets.

Bourbon Fried Apple Pies 
inspired by Sam Beall

Fried pies, also called half-moon pies or mule’s ears are a well loved southern favorite.  Traditionally dried fruit, especially dried apples are used for the filling,  but since it is the height of apple season using some unique heirloom varieties found at the farmers' market or even the reliable Granny Smith are a fine option in breaking tradition.
For best results, make the pies ahead of time and freeze them on a tray.  They fry best when frozen.

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. vanilla
¼ cup Bourbon (optional)
4 tart apples, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large egg
1 recipe sweet pastry dough (recipe below)
3 cups vegetable oil
Ice cream, for serving (optional)

In a medium skillet over medium heat combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon.  Boil for about 5 minutes, until very thick and caramelized.  Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the Bourbon; the mixture may sputter.  Return the pan to medium heat and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes.

Add the apples and swirl the pan or stir gently to coat the apples with the liquid.  Cook for 5 minutes more, or until the apples start to soften.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature; refrigerate if not using within an hour or two.

When you’re ready to assemble the pies, beat the egg and add a couple of tablespoons cold water together until smooth.  Set aside.  Strain the apple mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the solids from the liquid.  Set both aside in separate bowls.

On a floured surface, roll out a quarter of the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch.  With a 4-inch round cutter, cut out circles and transfer them to a parchment lined surface.  Brush the circles all over with the egg wash.  Spoon a tablespoon of the apple mixture and a little sauce onto the bottom half of each circle.  Fold the top of each down to cover the filling, making half moon shapes.  Using the tines of a fork or your fingers, press down on the edges to seal the pies.  If the dough begins to get to soft, stick it in the refrigerator for a few minutes or so to firm up a bit.

Transfer them to a rimmed baking, still on the parchment, being careful that they don’t touch each other.  Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 4 to 5 hours, until the pies are solidly frozen.  Once frozen, the pies can either be cooked immediately or transferred to resealable plastic bags and kept frozen for a month.

When ready to serve the pies, place the oil in a large skillet and heat of high heat until a pinch of flour sprinkled into the oil immediately bubbles (but doesn’t spit) and begins to brown, or a deep-fry thermometer registers 350°F.  Take the pies out of the freezer and fry a few at a time in the oil, turning them once, for about 5 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and the filling is heat through.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Repeat until all the pies are cooked.  Serve them warm with scoops of ice cream on the side.

makes 16 to 18 pies, enough for 8 to 10 servings 

Sweet Pastry
makes pastry for one 9-inch pie or one 10-inch tart

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake or pastry flour
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk

Place the all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas.  In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk together; pour them over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture forms large clumps.

Scoop the dough out of the processor onto a floured surface (I am really enjoying using a floured pastry cloth for rolling out dough); knead a few times, just until the dough is smooth.  Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate for a least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days; the dough can also be frozen for up to 6 months and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to using.

Rochelle's Spiced Vanilla Ice Cream
makes 1 quart

3 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
3 Tbsp. mulling spice mix put into a cheesecloth "purse"

Heat the cream, sugar, vanilla seeds and the mulling spice “purse” in a small saucepan only until the sugar is dissolved.  Be sure not to let the mixture come to a boil.  Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let set for about 20 minutes to allow the mulling spices to infuse the cream mixture.  Stain into a bowl, cover, and chill very well.  Freeze the mixture in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s direction.  Spoon into a freezer container and allow to chill in the freezer for a few hours.  Allow to soften before serving.


Friday, October 22, 2010

and the winner is...

“It’s a pie!”  “No, it’s a cake!”  This was the argument I somehow got in the middle of when I asked the culinary director and her assistant at my workplace for the pumpkin cheesecake recipe that has been such a hit lately.  They were getting into the process, what is in it that makes it a pie or for that matter a cake.  I really don’t know what the final decision was, and honestly, I didn’t really care.  Thankfully though, I did get the recipe and a disgustingly huge slice to take home for snacking on that night after work.  

This pumpkin cheesecake has a gingersnap cookie crust that is so buttery, it just melts in your mouth.  The filling has of course cream cheese (a boat load), pumpkin, some spices and a splash of bourbon, just because it sounds good.  It is so creamy and delicious, and the pumpkin adds a beautiful color as well. The topping, which I think just makes this “pie” is the praline top.  A pecan, brown sugar, butter mixture that is baked until bubbly, hardens as it cools and then is crumbled on top to give an extra texture and flavor bump. It is so good.

This recipe serves twelve, so invite the gang over, and call it whatever you want, they won’t care.  They’ll just think you’re a rock star!


Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake
from Bon Appetit

For praline
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

For crust
2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 9 ounces)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For filling
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs
1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Make praline:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheet with foil. Stir sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts and mixture comes to boil; boil 1 minute without stirring. Mix in pecans. Spread mixture on prepared baking sheet. Bake until sugar syrup bubbles vigorously, about 8 minutes. Cool praline completely. Break into pieces. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight.)

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Stir cookie crumbs and cinnamon in medium bowl to blend. Add butter; stir until crumbs are moistened. Press onto bottom and 1 inch up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Bake crust until set, about 8 minutes. Cool. Double-wrap outside of pan with heavy-duty foil. Place in large roasting pan.

Make filling:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in flour and spices. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in pumpkin, bourbon and vanilla. Transfer to crust.
Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to reach 1 inch up sides of springform pan. Bake cake in water bath until center is just set, adding more water to roasting pan as needed, about 1 hour 45 minutes. Remove cheesecake from water. Cool in pan on rack. Remove foil. Run small sharp knife between cake and pan sides. Chill until cold; then cover and chill overnight.
Release pan sides. Place cake on platter. Sprinkle praline over, leaving 1-inch plain border at edge. Cut cake into wedges.

Serves 12

Friday, October 1, 2010

dig the fig

Whether fresh or dried, figs have long been prized for their promise of sweetness. Of all fruits, figs contain the most sugar, which may explain why they have been honored for centuries as aphrodisiacs and symbols of abundance, understanding, and love. Versatility is a great descriptor of this fruit, whether baked, roasted, stewed, dipped or stuffed this fruit can take many forms and pairs well with sweet or savory dishes.

I’ve been playing around with some different recipes for fig jam and have come up with a deliciously sweet preserve that uses only tender, hand-harvested fruit picked at the peak of ripeness, a touch of citrus, a spicy kick from black peppercorns and then topped off with cognac. The result is an earthy sweet jam with a bright fruit character.

This is a natural to pair with an aged sheep’s milk cheese, spread over a roasted pork loin, poured on top of ice cream or even spooned over ricotta pancakes at breakfast.

No matter which culinary vehicle you choose to serve with this fig jam, it is well worth the effort.


Drunken Fig Jam
makes 3-  ½ pints

2 lb. black mission figs, stemmed, cut into ½ inch pieces
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups sugar
¼ cup Cognac or brandy
½ cup orange juice
1 tsp. black peppercorns placed in cheesecloth “purse”

Zest (yellow part only) and juice the lemon. Combine figs, zest, lemon juice, sugar, Cognac, orange juice and the “purse” of black peppercorns into a heavy large deep saucepan. Bring fig mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced by half, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing mixture to crush the larger fig pieces, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the peppercorn purse and take off the heat.

Ladle mixture into 3 ½ -pint sterilized glass canning jars, leaving ¼ -inch space at the top of the jars. Remove any air bubbles using a chopstick or skewer. Wipe jar threads and rims with a clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Cool jars completely, store in a cool dark place up to 1 year.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the mothership of condiments

It never occurred to me to make homemade ketchup. That is until I tried the one from Ramos House in San Juan Capistrano. Chef and owner John Q’s recipe is a secret, but is for sale, I think he charges about $8.00 a bottle, which, admittedly I have purchased. But for the sole purpose of trying to figure out what he puts in it. His deliciously nuanced ketchup is spicy, sweet and slightly smoky. I have made a few attempts and think I’ve finally come up with a pretty darn good version of my own. It starts with only the best vine ripened tomatoes cooked with some fresh chilies, ginger, and honey and then simmered with a bundle of spices to round out the flavor. It gets finished off with some apple cider vinegar to give it that subtle tang that we all know and love.

Given in old-fashioned, hinged-topped, clear glass bottles, this everyday pantry product is even more special when made from the really beautiful tomatoes found in the farmers’ markets right now. What a great way to preserve summer throughout the dark winter months until they make their appearance again next year.


Homemade Spicy Ketchup
makes about 3cups

Olive oil
5 lbs. red ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 small fresh red chilies, sliced
3 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. yellow mustard seed
1 tsp. allspice, whole
1 tsp. coriander seed, whole
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Put the vegetables, parsley, garlic and salt in a large pot.

Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Pass the mixture through a food mill fitted with the fine disk and return the puree to the pot.

Put the bay leaves, mustard seeds, allspice, coriander, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and cloves on a square of cheesecloth, and then tie with kitchen twine to make a spice bag.

Add to the pot with the honey. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced by half, about 1 hour. Remove the spice bag and add the vinegar. Continue to simmer, stirring as needed to prevent sticking until the mixture reaches the desired thickness or about 3cups.

Fill a canning kettle with enough water to cover 2 hinged flask style jars or 3 half pint jars. Bring to a boil. Wash the jars with hot, soapy water; rinse well, and keep upside down on a clean dish towel until you are ready to fill them. Put 3 new lids (never reuse lids) in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water, if you’re using the half pint jars.

Using a ladle and a funnel, and transfer the ketchup to the jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Wipe rims clean with a damp paper towel. Top with the lids and secure tightly.

Place the jars on the preserving rack and lower it into the canning kettle. If the water doesn’t cover the jars, add boiling water from a tea kettle. Cover the canning kettle. After the water returns to a boil, boil for 15 minutes. With a jar lifter, transfer the jars to a rack and cool completely. Do not touch the jars again until they are completely cooled. If using the half pint jars you can confirm that a lid has sealed by pressing the center with your finger. If it gives, it has not sealed and the contents should be refrigerated and used within a week. Store sealed jars in a cool dark place for least two weeks before using. They will keep for up to 1 year before opening. Refrigerate after opening.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

spread the love

Gift giving is a tangible expression of care and love. For me a homemade food gift packed into tins, jars, boxes or cellophane bags tied with ribbon represents creative energy and time spent in the kitchen-a homemade hug. It’s a personal connection of sharing a homemade gift and wrapping it up in some special way that brings joy and delivers goodness and cheer.

I made a promise to myself after the holidays last year that I was going to get a good jump on my holiday gift giving projects. And to that end I have been canning and preserving quite a bit over that last few weeks.

Figs have been in abundance this season; I’ve made some fig jam laced with cognac, as well as a fig and balsamic conserve. Rainier and Bing cherries have been potted with rum and vanilla and with summer winding down the bargain-priced, end of season green tomatoes at the farmers’ market are so good when preserved and turned into green tomato chutney. Concord grapes have been slowly making their way into the markets lately and I have a recipe for a compote of Concord grapes and walnuts I’ve been wanting to try.

This is also a great time to grab the last of those vine ripened tomatoes and turn them into spicy tomato ketchup, and when preserved into a flask-style bottle paired with a homemade smoky BBQ rub it makes a delightful and incredibly useful gift for those friends who like to grill.

Over the next few weeks I thought I might share with you some of my favorite recipes old and new, as well as some tips, notes and packaging details with the hopes that you will enjoy creating these gifts for those you love. After all, giving a gift, especially a food gift comes from the heart.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

as easy as pie

What could be better than a picture perfect double-crusted pie, its rim crimped and decorated with the back of a fork, its top baked to a beautiful golden brown and a starburst-pattern in the center that has been stained from the luscious bubbling filling? The aroma of warm fruits that have been encased in a tender flaky dough baked to perfection is probably the dessert that is tops on my list. Although truth be told, I’ve been known to have pie for breakfast as well.

The secret to baking fruit pies in my opinion is the cooking of the filling on top of the range. This gives the opportunity to adjust the flavors before the pie goes into the oven-a good idea and a guarantee of success from pie to pie, no matter the sweetness, or lack thereof, of a particular batch of fruit. Right now at the farmers’ market plums are in season and are over flowing on the market tables. One of my favorites is the small sugar plum or the French Prune plum. It is a small variety that tastes best when it’s wrinkled, and has an aroma that makes you want to eat it. Paring these sweet, red fleshed stone fruits with a pint or two of blueberries is a match made in heaven.  As with all pies and tarts you can play around with the filling. And, when you’re feeling ambitious, double or triple the recipe and bake or store in the freezer for a quick dessert that will make you look like a rock star!


Blueberry and Sugar Plum Pie
Makes 6 to 8 servings

The Filling:
3 cups fresh blueberries (about 1 ½ pints)
10 sugar plums, sliced
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Large pinch of grated lemon zest
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Put half of the fruit in a medium saucepan, keeping the remaining fruit close at hand. Add the sugar, flour, and lemon zest and stir to mix. Bring the mixture to a soft boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. The fruits will release their juices and the liquid with thicken. Turn the mixture into a bowl and stir in the uncooked fruit. Taste spoonful, paying attention to the saucy liquid, and add lemon juice as needed. Cool the filling to room temperature.

The Crust:
½ recipe pastry dough from the toolbox
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. cold water, for egg wash
Crystal or turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Lining the pie pan: Cut the dough in half and roll one half out on a lightly floured work surface into a circle about 11 inches across. Fit the crust into a 9-inch pie pan with 1-inch high sides. (Or you can use an 8-inch pie pan with 1 ½-inch high sides.) Allow excess dough to hang over the sides for the moment.

Roll the remaining piece of dough into a circle about 10 inches across. Place the pie pan in the center of the dough and, using the pan as a template, cut the bottom round of dough so that it is about ½ inch larger all around than the pan.

Filling the pie pan: Spoon the cooled filling into the pie shell and dot the top with the butter.

Top crust: Trim the overhanging dough to about ½ inch. Lift the rolled-out circle of dough onto the pie (I use my rolling pin to roll the dough onto it and then unroll on top of the pie) Align the edges of the top crust with the bottom crust. If necessary use a kitchen knife or scissor to trim any ragged edges.

Fold both layers of overhanging dough under to create a thick edge around the rim of the pan. Crimp the edges gently with a fork. Paint the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little crystal or turbinado sugar.

Chilling the pie: Using the point of a thin knife, cut 4 to 6 slits in the crust and chill for about 20 minutes. At this point the pie can be frozen. Place it on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then wrap airtight and freeze for up to a month. There’s no need to thaw the pie before baking, but you should apply another coat of egg wash and will have to bake the pie about 10 minutes longer.

Baking the pie: Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place the pie on a parchment or silpat lined jelly-roll pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before you cut it so that the crusts top and bottom have a chance to set.

Storing: Pies are at their peak the day they’re made, but you can cover and chill leftovers for a day (if it lasts that long!)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

kicking back and some farmer's cheese with stone fruit

Waking up this morning with the knowledge that I had a day off I felt almost giddy and I began to make my list…

It begins with the morning ritual of a walk with my hubby and the dog and then off for coffee at a favorite local hangout.

After the legal addictive stimulant had done its handiwork, it was time to get serious. Should I finally crack open one of the many books that I’ve been meaning to get to or should I hit the beach? Or what about heading out to some of my favorite antique shops to find a lovely treasure that needs a new home? Gardening? Trying out that new recipe?

But after some thought I decided to text a good friend to see if she was up for lunch…thankfully for me she was.

Enjoying the relaxing outdoor atmosphere of my favorite local restaurant Ramos House, it was sheer bliss knowing that the most difficult thing ahead of me was deciding what to order from the menu.

I decided to start with the stone fruit with farmer’s cheese, a mix of peaches, plums and nectarines. It was the perfect start.  Especially since stone fruits are at the peak of the season right now, and with the addition of some fresh mint and blueberries it couldn’t have been a better precursor to my savory main course.

But the thing that took it over the top for me was the farmer’s cheese. The delicate creaminess and slight tang were the perfect accompaniment for the fruit. This cheese has a very creamy mouth feel and can be used in many different applications that call for ricotta and it works beautifully in lasagna as well. It is a little difficult to find, although I’ve seen it in some specialty food stores, but it couldn’t be easier to make yourself.

The process starts by basically taking 1 gallon of whole milk and bringing it up just to the boiling point (190°) over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot.

When the milk begins to reach the 190° point, small bubbles will begin to appear at the edges, turn off the heat. Stir in about ¼ cup lemon juice into the milk and a pinch of salt, and the milk will curdle. You may need to wait 10 to 15 minutes for the curds to fully form.

Line a sieve or colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth, and pour the milk through the cloth to catch the curds. This may take a few hours, what is left in the cheesecloth is the Farmer's Cheese. The liquid is the whey. Some people keep the whey and drink it, but I throw it away. Gather the cloth around the cheese, and squeeze out as much of the whey as you can. Wrap in plastic, or place in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator. This yields about 1 pound of cheese.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

in the eye of the beholder

I think we’ve been trained to think that anything ugly can’t be good. This is especially wrong when looking at figs. They have to be gushy, ugly and soft before they’re good.

Most figs we find in the grocery stores are picked too early; they need to ripen on the tree because they won’t ripen off of it. But growers who sell through farmers’ markets can pick their figs dead-ripe and count on finding customers who don’t care that the fruit’s not picture-perfect.

The harvesting of figs is not an easy task, and probably the main reason why they are a little pricey. Figs are brutal on workers’ hands because the stems “bleed” latex when it’s cut. The latex so irritates the cuticles and the area under the nails that the pickers have to tape their fingers like football players do. At night, workers soak their hands with medicinal herbs. Usually growers will maintain two crews so no one picks too many days in a row.

Look for figs that are very soft. Black Missions, the typical ones we find here in California are tear drop shaped with a thin purplish-black skin and a slightly reddish flesh, these taste best when they start to shrivel. The small round Kadota fig has a greenish yellow skin with a honey sweet flesh. When ripe they should have a drop of “honey” at the end. Avoid figs with any sign of mold.

Don’t store figs in plastic; they don’t like humidity. Refrigerate them in a paper bag, or better yet on a plate. They should keep a week.

Even though figs are delicious on their own, I have a favorite way to enjoy them for a simple appetizer or in-between meal nibble. Simply halve the figs and put a small knob of goat cheese on top of each one.

Drizzle with a touch of Balsamic Vinegar or Vincotto, then wrap in a thin layer of prosciutto. The tender sweetness of the fig with the tang and creaminess of the goat cheese pairs beautifully with the salty prosciutto.

Remember the season for these little beauties is short so enjoy them while you can!


Saturday, July 31, 2010

a daughter's request

The apple doesn’t seem to fall too far from the proverbial tree with regards to my daughter. I have to admit it gives me a certain pleasure when I see some of the similarities that we share. There are of course those characteristics that may not be so pleasing, and I find myself at those moments looking at my husband asking “what’s up with that?” He usually just smiles, and then I know. Ahh…yes, she gets’ that from me.

But for now, we will focus on the positive. My daughter who is getting ready to start her third year in college isn’t home quite as much anymore. But when she is and is needing to relax, she goes into the living room turns on the TV and finds one of the myriad of cooking shows that are saved on TIVO. Her favorite one is Barefoot Contessa. She loves Ina’s soothing voice, down to earth style and easy to follow recipes.

Recently she saw an episode in which Ina made a yogurt cheese and layered it with fruit and some additional flavors. It seemed so simple we didn’t even need to print up the recipe; we just decided to wing it.

In my version I made the yogurt cheese by draining a large container of plain yogurt in some cheese cloth that was folded over to make four layers.

I lined a strainer with the cheesecloth and set this over a bowl to let the liquid drain off overnight. In the morning there was about ½ cup of liquid in the bottom of the bowl and the yogurt was now much thicker in consistency. In Ina’s version she added some vanilla and a small amount of peach nectar. I decided to take the peach nectar (about 1 cup) and reduce it down in a saucepan until it was thick and syrupy, reduced to about ½ cup. Then adding the reduced peach nectar to the yogurt cheese until it was the consistency and flavor that I wanted.  I added almost the whole amount of reduced nectar to the yogurt. To serve, layer the yogurt with some sliced toasted almonds, some sliced peaches and fresh raspberries and you have a wonderful way to start your day!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

commander in cheese

Roquefort is renowned throughout the world as the “King of Cheeses”. It was named after a village in the south of France and is infamous for its pungent smell and characteristic blue veins of mold.

The story behind the origins of Roquefort blue cheese has been romanticized in an old legend. It begins with a young shepherd who was minding his flock of sheep in the hills of Roquefort when he suddenly sighted a beautiful maiden in the distance. Determined to find her he left his dog to guard the sheep and hastily placed his lunch-bread and ewe’s milk curds in the nearby caves to keep cool. The shepherd was away for days, looking for his maiden. Unfortunately, he never found her. The shepherd, dejected, returned to his sheep tired and hungry. When he took his lunch out of the caves, he found that the bread and milk curds were moldy. His hesitation was brief due to his hunger. With some trepidation, the shepherd took a bite and was pleasantly surprised to find that his moldy lunch tasted so good! Roquefort was born.

Whether this story is true or not, the fact remains that Roquefort is delicious. True, it is an acquired taste, and many are thrown off by its strong smell. But this is a pity, because Roquefort’s moist and creamy texture is a delectable experience not to be missed.

If you are on the fence about this cheese, why not give this recipe a try. It is the classic paring of a sweet tender pear with the salty pungent cheese. Put together in a pastry shell and filled with a simple mixture of cream and eggs. This lovely tart is a perfect lunch dish or served for a light dinner.


Pear and Roquefort Tart
Serves 6

1 recipe for pastry
6 oz. Roquefort
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored, and sliced into small dice
2 eggs
1 cup cream
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper

After preparing your pastry dough following the link above, place one round of the uncooked pastry dough into a 10” tart shell with removable bottom.

Scatter prepared pear onto the pasty shell evenly. Then using your fingers break off small chunks of the Roquefort cheese and place in between the pear pieces.

In a small bowl beat the eggs lightly, add the cream, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Mix together well. Pour mixture over the pears and cheese. Bake in a 425° preheated oven until set. About 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

preserving summer

If you’re anything like me, I find that sometimes the simplest things can be so satisfying. Whether it’s a perfectly pulled shot of espresso poured over a creamy frothed cup of milk in the morning. A handful of fresh fruit, bursting with juice and flavor that can only come after it has finished its course abiding on the vine. Or maybe it’s a crusty loaf of bread that has been doused in extra virgin olive oil and rich sweet balsamic. These are definitely some of my simple “food” pleasures.

With summer now in full swing, produce seems to be overflowing at the farm stands. Berries are plump, lettuces are lush and green and the root vegetables that are showing up are tender and sweet. But more than that, it’s the tomatoes that seem to grab me. As soon as I walk up to my local farm stand I can smell that earthy sweet fragrance that only comes from a freshly picked tomato. They are displayed on large rustic wood tables almost flaunting themselves; they seem to take center stage. Large beefsteak, heirloom varieties that hit a wide spectrum of color from golden yellow to dark purple, even some bright green “zebra” tomatoes boasting their white stripes.

One way to take a little bit of summer and stash it away for later in the year is to take some of those fresh off the vine tomatoes that are at the peak of the season and roast them for those times during the “tomato wilderness”- the long dark time between locally grown tomatoes. For roasting I prefer the smaller roma style tomatoes, their meaty, firm flesh are just right for roasting low and slow.

Simply rinse the ripe plum tomatoes and lay out on a clean kitchen towel. Slice lengthwise and lay in a single layer on ridged cookie sheets. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast at 325° for about 1 ½ until the tomatoes have shriveled up a bit and are nicely caramelized. Once they come out of the oven drizzle with a little more olive oil and let cool. Once cool, put in freezer bags or other storage container with a bay leaf or two and seal tightly. These can be stored in the fridge for 1week or in the freezer up to a year.

These are a wonderful addition to sauces and stews, a topping for homemade pizza or even as a hors d’oeuvre served with some goat cheese on a toasted slice of baguette.



Friday, July 2, 2010

the journey

guilty pleasures.
and a love story.

These words could very well describe a new cinema production or be the “hook” on the back of a recently released novel on the shelves at the local bookstore. But in fact they are some of the titles and experiences I’ve had in my kitchen this past year.

This week marks the one year anniversay for the 5 foot gourmet. I’ve enjoyed this foray into the blogosphere. But probably even more, I’m pleased with what it has motivated me to do, with regards to cooking, recipe development, writing, photography and trying to figure out how to put an actual blog together (because I’m not very technical).

Looking back through the postings (all 92 of them) I saw that I tried some things that maybe, if I wasn’t blogging might just get put in the pile for “some day” or that I wouldn't have attempted at all.

I overcame my fear of the culinary torch, persevered in the making of quince paste and was determined (and probably a little insane) when I took on the challenge of National Blog Writing Month, posting everyday for the month of November.

Thankfully because there are so many wonderful resources available to us, I found inspiration on how to use passion fruit in cookies and a roulade.

I shared with you my obsession with squash blossoms

 confessed my compulsiveness at the farmer's market,

as well as a few guilty pleasures.

I invited you along on some field trips throughout the year, revealed things I’m thankful  for and even shared a love story.

This next year I’m hoping to explore some new methods of cooking and also to refine my skills in some of the classic techniques. I hope to synthesize the knowledge and proven wisdom from some of the great chefs past and present and hopefully apply it in a new way.

So I hope you’ll tag along on with me on this path…after all, it’s all about the journey.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

time to relax

A simple breakfast with a strong cup of coffee and time to sit and leisurely enjoy the morning, are times that probably most of us see ourselves enjoying but seldom have the chance to realize.

I’ve had some schedule changes in my life recently that have challenged those moments as well as countless others (including posting for this blog). But I am determined to carve out those quiet, re-building times that help me to energize for the busier times.

Eggs are the quintessential comfort food as well as quick and simple to prepare. And this recipe for herbed baked eggs is delicious and satisfying. With a touch of cream, a knob of butter and some freshly grated parmesan you can elevate eggs to glory.

The herbs for this dish can vary with what is in your garden or that you have on hand in the fridge. My garden right now is abundant with fragrantly woody rosemary, thyme and summer savory, the more delicate sister of winter savory. It is related to the mint family, the flavor is slightly peppery, as well as reminiscent of both mint and thyme. It has a wonderful affinity for tender young vegetables and I enjoy using this herb to flavor vinegar, which is a way to preserve that fresh, summery flavor at the height of the season.

So put on a fresh pot of coffee, crack a few eggs and take some time to relax.

I did.


Herbed Baked Eggs
inspired by Ina Garten

1 clove minced fresh garlic
2 Tbsp. minced fresh herbs. (I used rosemary, thyme and savory. Or parsley, tarragon and chives would work well also)
2 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
6 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.

Combine the garlic, herbs and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 3 eggs into each of 2 small bowls or teacups (you won't be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It's very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)

Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon of cream and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5 to 6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren't cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The idea of agra-dolce is essentially to try to achieve a balance between contrasting tastes-salty (or savory) and sweet. Where each ingredient will both compliment but also pull against the other as well, to create a harmony of flavors that both satisfy and excite the palate.

In my kitchen the principle of agra-dolce has its base in chutney’s, relishes and spicy-sweet tomato jam. Using ingredients such as maple syrup, honey or molasses and then contrasting it with soy sauce, vinegar, chile, or citrus is the perfect way to achieve this idea.

The recipe below is a perfect “in season” chutney. The base uses apricots which are at their peak right now. These golden orange fruits with velvety skin and flesh are smooth and sweet with an almost musky flavor, with a faint tartness that lies somewhere between a peach and a plum. The addition of sweet plump raisins, golden syrup and cider vinegar help to create that opposing flavor balance of agra-dolce.

This chutney would be a lovely accompaniment to a roast chicken or any pilaf made with aromatic rice such as basmati. It would also be a welcome addition on a cheese board, either with a creamy goat cheese or even a nutty Manchego.


Apricot-Raisin Chutney
Adapted from Living Magazine, June 2005

2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ small onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
1 pound apricots, pitted and roughly chopped
½ cup sugar
½ cup good quality honey or golden syrup
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup apple cider vinegar

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion; cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.

Transfer onion to a large saucepan. Add apricots, sugar, honey, raisins and vinegar. Cook over medium heat, stirring until thickened, about 25 minutes.

Pour chutney into a large bowl. Let cool completely. Serve at room temperature. Chutney can be refrigerated in an airtight container, up to 1 week.

makes 2 cups

Monday, June 14, 2010

welcome refreshment

When citrus, herbs and other bright ingredients are added to an ordinary carafe of water, it is deliciously transformed.

We have all heard that we need eight glasses of water every day for health, but if you’re like me that can seem a little mundane. So why not mix it up a bit and raid the fridge for some inspiration.

For the citrus-rosemary water I used some slices of fresh ginger, added some large strips of orange zest and gently crushed a sprig of rosemary that I had in my garden. For the lime-cucumber water, try some slices of lime, cucumber ribbons and either some fresh mint or in my case some summer savory. Steep the ingredients in water and refrigerate for an hour to develop in flavor.

I think you’ll agree these simple additions will make those suggested eight glasses of water that we are supposed to drink a much more interesting and flavorful endeavor.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

a perfect paring

I’ve been reminiscing about my childhood. Being raised by two loving Grandparents, I have many fond memories of them and that little pink house that Grandpa had built. It’s interesting that food, even in its simplest form can bring back former days or moments, sometimes good and bad. Lately for me it has been rhubarb and strawberries.

Growing up in Idaho I remember when the spring days would get longer and the temperatures would begin to climb; produce from the garden began to increase. The garden was my Grandfathers pride and joy and probably a place of solace as well. He would bring in armfuls of greens, still warm from the sun with the smell of fresh soil still hugging at the roots. But what really got me excited was when it was time to harvest the rhubarb. It was a very short period during the spring when our few plantings of rhubarb would be ruby red and ready for harvest and the strawberries were heavy, bright red and sweet. This was the time for strawberry and rhubarb pie. And boy, did my Grandma know how to make a pie.

Like most Grandmothers there wasn’t a recipe only intuition and her hands that new the task well. I loved to watch her. We didn’t talk much when she was baking, but she would hum and I would kneel on the kitchen stool sneaking a berry or taking a leftover stalk of rhubarb and dip it into the sugar bowl. Grandma would scoop her coffee cup into the flour tin then into the sugar, giving the mix a turn with her hands. Adding the shortening and butter, (at what ratio I will never know) she would use her fingers to blend the ingredients. Then came the iced water drip by drip until it was the consistency she needed. When it was time to roll the dough the decks would be cleared and a toss of flour went onto the board, then the rolling pin was produced to finish the job. It all seemed so easy, and I relished the entertainment. But probably even more I enjoyed the results. The tender, flaky crust that encased the sweet tart blend of freshly harvested rhubarb and strawberries is a combination that cannot be improved upon.

If the prospect of baking a pie sends you running in the other direction, but you still want to enjoy the perfect paring of rhubarb and strawberry, try this recipe. It is a delightfully simple crisp with a hazelnut oatmeal top that is sure to please. Serve the crisp warm in bowls with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

I think even Grandma would have liked it.


Rhubarb & Strawberry Crisp
Serves 8

1 lb. rhubarb, sliced in 1 in. pieces
2 pints strawberries, hulled, sliced in half
Zest and juice from 3 blood oranges (or whatever oranges you have on hand)
¼ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
1 stick butter, chilled, cubed
¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup oats
Pinch of salt
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed, chopped coarsely

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8 x 11 baking dish and set aside. In a bowl combine sliced rhubarb, strawberries, zest and juice from the oranges, flour and sugar. Toss gently to incorporate flour and sugar throughout. Pour into prepared baking dish.

For the topping I like to use a food processor, but a pastry cutter, fork or even your fingers work as well. Combine chilled, cubed butter, with the flour, sugar and salt, pulse a few times until butter is the size of small peas. Add oatmeal and pulse once or twice, just enough to get it mixed through, but not chopped too small. Crumble mixture over the top of the strawberry rhubarb mixture. Top with the roasted hazelnuts and bake for 45 minutes until the top is browned nicely and the mixture is bubbling through the cracks.

Serve warm with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

as sweet as tupelo honey

The fame of Tupelo honey didn’t necessarily happen with Van Morrison’s hit song back in 1971, where the songwriter declares “she’s as sweet as tupelo honey, just like honey from the bee”. Tupelo honey is famed on its own merit.

Tupelo honey is a uniquely delicious, top quality honey and is valued for its inability to granulate. It is one of the most expensive because it is the most expensive to produce. The honey comes from the tupelo gum tree that grows in flooded forest areas in Florida, Louisiana and Georgia. Care must be taken by the beekeepers to clean the combs at the right time so that when the white tupelo gum tree blossoms, only honey from these blossoms is collected. White tupelo honey is a prized sweet delicious light amber honey with a greenish hue. The delightful taste of pure white tupelo honey can be savored on hot buttered toast or for something a little out of the ordinary, incorporate it into a warm crème anglaise that has been infused with dried lavender to make lavender and honey ice cream.

This is a creamy unexpected treat that couldn’t be simpler or more delicious.


Lavender and Honey Ice Cream
makes 3 cups

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
½ cup tupelo honey
¼ cup dried lavender
6 egg yolks

Pour the cream and milk into a heavy bottomed pan and place over low heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add them to the creamy milk with the empty pod, along with the honey. Slowly, stirring to incorporate the honey, bring the mixture just below the boil. Remove from heat and stir in the dried lavender. Set aside to infuse for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, beat the egg yolks with a whisk until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow. Gently reheat the creamy milk mixture and pour on to the egg yolks, stirring with a whisk as you do so.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve back into the saucepan, removing the lavender. Place over the lowest possible heat. Stir gently and patiently until the custard thickens-this may take 10-15 minutes (don’t be tempted to increase the heat, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs). It should be thick enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Draw a finger along the back of the spoon-it should leave a clear trace.

Pour custard into a covered container and let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.