Friday, October 23, 2015

Flourless Chocolate--Walnut Cookies, Ultra-chocolatey!

“Gluten-free” has become almost a food fashion statement in recent years, but I am always wondering how someone can live without good pizza, pasta, baguette, croissant and many delicious sweet creations.

After many years in the business of providing "real food," I now receive increasing requests for gluten-free meals. I am trying to understand that there are quite a few people who need specific diets, but it seems to me that in most cases these are instances of dislikes or dieting fads, rather than medical necessity (I have heard many… “I am a vegetarian, but shrimp is OK,” or “I cannot have sugary foods, but ice cream is an exception,” etc.). Rather than debating the merits or legitimacy, I just try to offer what people request.

As a matter of fact, there are many cuisines that don’t use much, if any, wheat/gluten ingredients, such as Japanese, Mexican and Indian cuisines. Even France has its famous soufflé, clafouti, chocolate mousse and many other low-or no-wheat specialties.

Anyway, this cookie is for everyone – whether you eat gluten-free, or don’t. When you bake these cookies your entire house will smell like warm chocolate ... perfect for the cooler season. Yes, chocolate season is coming!

And be sure to save those egg yolks... for pastry cream, flan or crème brûlée – all good, traditional and gluten-free!

Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies, Ultra-chocolatey

Recipe adapted from Chocolate Epiphany, by François Payard

Makes 36 cookies

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup of dark chocolate chips

Position 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Mix well and stir in the walnuts. Add the egg whites and vanilla. Mix until the mixture has slightly thickened. Do not overmix. Stir in the chocolate chips.

With a one-ounce ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop the batter onto baking sheets. They will be about 2-inches in diameter. Bake cookies until tops are lightly cracked and glossy, about 15 minutes.

Repeat with remaining batter. Store in an airtight container or cookie jar at room temperature for up to a few days.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Blueberry Crumble Pie with Blanc de Bleu Sparkling Wine from Spain -- Liven up your life!

Blueberries have been amazingly popular in America and worldwide in recent years. This has pumped up sales of not only juices, jams and yogurts, but everything from bath/body wash and cosmetics to designer cocktails. Much of this limelight can be attributed to over-hyped and extrapolated health benefits, but regardless, it has led to energetic sales of thousands of different products.

Blueberries are native to North America and available almost year-round (including imported ones), but when out of season locally they can be pricey. Currently they are available from South America and from Canada and the Pacific Northwest, where the season is just ending. Frozen is another good option, at least for use in blended drinks and baking.

I like blueberries, but personally have never been that crazy about them. However, a good friend told me recently that he loves blueberry cobbler and French vanilla ice cream served with blueberry-infused Spanish sparkling wine. Yes, with sparkling wine… now THAT sounds good to me! So I wanted to bake a simple yet classic cobbler, crumble pie to host said infusion.

I like any dessert that is not too sweet. This is not the super-sweet cobbler or pie you can buy at the supermarket. It is delicious and goes great with Blanc de Bleu sparkling wine from Spain. This is a dessert for grown-up wine lovers, not children.  Let me know if you try it!  

Blueberry Cobbler/Crumble Pie

Recipe adapted and modified from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Baking, by Cathy Burgett, Elinor Klivans & Lou Seibert Pappas

Serves 8-10
You will need:  one 9 ½ inch pie pan, fluted tart pan, or baking dish

1 recipe all-butter short-crust pastry (Pâte Brisée): See recipe below**
¾ cup, plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick (110 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups blueberries, about 12-15 ounces

Position a rack in the lower third of oven and preheat to 400F.

To roll dough:
Lightly flour the dough and place on cool counter top. Roll out gradually, periodically letting dough rest for a moment before continuing. This makes rolling easier and will keep dough from shrinking back during baking.

Roll dough to a thin round approximately 13 inches in diameter, then trim to make a 12-inch circle.
Lay dough loosely into a 9 ½ -inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom, or a pie dish, letting it relax a bit.

Fold and overlap back inside to make a double thickness, then press firmly against the pan so the finished edge is slightly higher than the pan. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes before pre-baking.

Line chilled pie crust with a piece of aluminum foil. Fill with dried beans, uncooked rice or pie weights. Bake until the crust dries out, about 15 minutes; to check, lift an edge of the foil and carefully remove the weights and foil. Reduce the heat to 350F. Continue to bake until the crust is lightly browned on the edges and dry-looking on the bottom, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the crust to a wire rack.

Increase the heat to 375F.

In a large bowl, stir together the ¾ cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, the salt and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Scatter the butter pieces on top and toss with a fork or your fingers to coat with flour mixture. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, work the ingredients together until mixture forms large coarse crumbs the size of large peas. Set the topping aside.

In another large bowl, combine the blueberries, the remaining 1/3 cup brown sugar, the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of the flour. Stir gently to coat the blueberries evenly. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon flour and the granulated sugar over the bottom of the pre-baked crust.
Pour the filling into the crust, spreading it evenly.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the blueberry filling. Bake the pie until the topping is golden brown and blueberry filling just begins to bubble, about 40-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. The pie/cobbler is best served the day it is baked.

Serve pie at room temperature with French vanilla ice cream and Blanc de Bleu sparkling wine!

**Pate Brisee vite faite (short crust pastry—quickly made)

For two 9 ½ -inch tart crusts

12 oz. (300 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
5 oz. (150 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional)
1 egg yolk (optional)
¼ cup (4 fl oz.) cold water or lukewarm milk, more if necessary

In a large mixing bowl, mix well the flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter using your fingers or a pastry blender, quickly cutting it into flour until mixture resembles small peas or coarse meal.
Add the egg yolk to the mixture, combine, and then the water or milk and knead the dough to form a flattened disk. Immediately roll out the dough and place onto a prepared tart or pie pan. Or wrap with plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight. Bring to cool room temperature before rolling.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Salad Nicoise with Grilled Salmon

It was very hot this past Monday in the Bay Area and many cities had record high temperatures. I enjoyed working on my recipe development at home.

I have a new personal kitchen assistant, Mayra, who has been working with me the last few weeks. She does a good job prepping, cleaning and organizing, and also can do things quite neatly like cleaning and folding napkins and kitchen towels. I love her work and am lucky to have found her.

Plus she is fun to work with. She told me she loves my food and that I am the best chef in America. What a great compliment from such a pretty woman! In return for her, I quickly made Salade Nicoise (yes I am so fast! ...especially with her help). We had a nice meal together in the backyard for our lunch break.

Salade Nicoise is my all-time favorite composed salad. I had leftover grilled salmon filet from the previous dinner, so I added it to the salad along with filet of anchovies (no tuna for this salad), and served it with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing instead of the usual Aioli (Provencal garlic mayonnaise). I used Lucero Organic Farms tomatoes (Early Girl), Heirloom Organics cute potatoes, and super fresh eggs from Cozzolino's... they were only 2 days old. They are excellent  products. I got everything from the Menlo Park farmers market on Sunday. It was very, very beautiful and delicious!

We also had my favorite bread -- Semifreddi’s sourdough seeded baguette. I don't like sourdough bread in general, but this is one exception. It is the most tasty bread available in the San Francisco/ Bay Area. That is just my opinion, but you can believe me. Semifreddi's sourdough baguette is available at Trader Joe’s, Wholefoods Market and other markets.

Salade Niçoise
(Serves 4)


For the balsamic vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
1 can of good tuna, like solid albacore 
16 anchovy filets
½ pound of green beans, cooked
1 pound of small Yukon or Dutch potatoes, boiled to tender and cut in quarters
1 each small red and orange bell pepper, cut in strips (optional)
1 small red or white onion, finely sliced (optional)
1 pound of small ripe tomatoes, cut in quarters
4 fresh farm eggs, semi-hard boiled, cooled then peeled and quartered
1/2 cup Nicoise olives or kalamata olives
1 lemon cut in quarters

To make the vinaigrette:
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, salt and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oil in a thin stream to emulsify the mixture.  Season to taste with salt (if necessary) and freshly ground black pepper.

Assembling the salad:
In a large serving bowl or 4 individual bowls or plates, arrange all your salad ingredients the way you like. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Sangria with Red Summer Fruits

I made this for a Labor Day barbeque party in my back yard. Everyone loved it. Typical Sangria recipes call for red wine and some brandy, but I used rosé wine and some white rum. The result is light and refreshing. I used Charles Shaw’s popular White Zinfandel “genuine California wine”.  It is a fairly sweet wine, but works perfectly for this Sangria. 

The weather is still quite hot here in California, and a lot of summer fruits continue to be available. So before summer slips away, try making this Sangria. I guarantee you will love it!

Sangria with Red Summer Fruits--Sangria à la Pastèque et aux fruits rouges

Makes about 12 servings

1/2 small watermelon
1 basket (½ pint) raspberries
1 basket (½ pint) red currents
½ basket (¼ pint) blueberries
½ basket (½ pint) strawberries
1 juice of orange
2 ounces (50g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bottle (750ml) of rosé wine or white zinfandel
¼ cup white rum (optional)
1 bottle (750ml) sparkling water or apple cider, chilled
Few sprigs of mint as garnish

1. Rinse all the fruit. Cut the watermelon into one-inch cubes; cut strawberries in half or quarters depending on size.
2. Place all prepped fruit in a large mixing bowl.
3. In another bowl, mix well the orange juice, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, rosé wine or white zinfandel, and white rum if you are using.
4. Pour the wine mixture into the fruit bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours.
5. When ready to serve add the sparkling water or apple cider.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Late Summer Wines -- Perfect for Labor Day Weekend!

Summer is not over yet in California. In fact, it's just beginning for those on the coast, where fog reigns for most of the summer. Are you ready for Labor Day weekend? These wines are my recommendations to enjoy for the rest of summer. Every one of them is very good and available at Trader Joe's for under $10, with most of them in the $5-6 range. I love TJ's!

I am not going to babble on in wine snob lingo about the characteristics of these wines. You just need to go to TJ's and pick them up to get ready for Labor Day weekend and enjoy.

Delicious affordable white, rosé and sparkling wines from California and France.

The above two wines are great with appetizers and seafood. You also can make a great summer Sangria (add watermelon and fresh berries) with the Charles Shaw White Zinfandel. It's only $2.49.

Many of my women friends enjoy these sparklings from France for summer.

This has been my everyday aperitif all summer. I enjoy this rosé very much.

From the south of France, Portugal and Spain, here are some reds that are great for BBQ... and all are under $6:

Encuentro is an organic wine from Valencia, Spain. It has a very mild and unique flavor and taste that I have never experienced before... very soft and feminine. It is a fine wine worth trying... but of course trying new wine is always recommended! 

This Tuella is from the Douro region of Portugal, very delicious and only $6. The Sainte-Croix is a robust Syrah-Merlot blend from the south of France. Both of these wines are good with grilled foods, from burgers to chicken breast to flank steak.

Have a great weekend!