Monday, July 30, 2012

Berry Clafoutis

Clafoutis is a very popular dessert all over France in spring and early summer. It is said that clafoutis was created in the Limousin region, in the central southwest of France. It is a fairly simple, homey dessert and easy to make (no dough or crust; it’s more like flan or pudding). Normally clafoutis is made with pitted cherries (e.g., burgundy dark Bing cherries), but the French often do not pit the cherries;  they believe baking it with whole cherries gives better flavor and often pre-cook the cherries with sugar and butter until tender. Here in California, cherry season is almost over, but a variety of seasonal berries can be used for a quick, delicious and elegant berry clafoutis!

Berry Clafoutis

Serves 8-10, one 9-inch baking dish

One basket (1/2 pt.) each blackberries, blueberries and raspberries
¼ cup (65g) plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 large organic eggs
1 organic egg yolk
4 tablespoons flour
1 ¼ cup (300 ml) milk or half and half, warm
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Butter for greasing baking dish
Confectioners’ sugar for the top

1.      Preheat the oven to 375º F (190º C)
2.      Butter the baking dish. Toss the berries gently with ¼ cup sugar and lemon zest in a bowl
Arrange the berries evenly in the baking dish
3.      Whisk together 3 tablespoons sugar, eggs, egg yolk and flour. Add the warm milk or half and half (if using) and vanilla, and whisk gently until smooth
4.      Slowly pour the batter over the berries (about 2/3 height of the baking dish)
5.      Bake in the upper third of the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the clafoutis is puffed and golden brown

Let cool slightly for 5 minutes. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over the top for a “dusting,” and serve warm or at room temperature.

Before Baking

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Super Natural Plum Tart

We have a big plum tree in our small back yard. Every year the tree gets a lot of sweet plums, with no tending/work required. This is why I call it our “super natural organic plum tree.”

Last year we had very little fruit, because cold, heavy rain destroyed almost all of the tiny white flowers in early spring. But this year, due to a very warm, dry, early spring, the tree is full of more juicy sweet plums than I have seen in 10 years.

Normally, a family with two young girls from my neighborhood comes to pick the fruits over the few weeks of the harvest season, but not this year because they moved away. So we faced a serious problem: neither our other neighbors (squirrels) nor us (humans) could consume the bounty of plums. Consequently, most of the fruit fell onto the ground, and I was the one who cleaned up the mess. In the last two weeks I’ve had to carry out 5-gallon buckets of fallen plums three times! It was so sad to do it and it was hard work, but it had to be done. It’s no wonder so few young people want to be farmers.

Anyway, I made a “super natural plum tart” using the last plums from our tree this season – to honor the wonderful nature of California and our hard working farmers.

Fresh Plum Tart
Makes one 9-inch tart

For almond tart dough:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour
¼ cup sugar
pinch of salt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons almond oil (or light olive oil)
¼ cup ice-cold water (plus more if necessary)

About 8-10 fresh, cleaned plums (more if they are small)
4 tablespoons good honey
zest and juice of ½ lemon
2-3 tablespoons of chopped unsalted pistachios or almonds (optional) for the top of tart

Place the dry ingredients (flours, sugar and salt) in a large mixing bowl (or food processor with a plastic dough blade attached). Add the oil first and mix until crumbly.
Then, while mixing, gradually add the cold water – enough for the dough to form a ball or to detach from the bowl if using a food processor. Let dough rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator or 1 hour at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Roll the dough and place it in a 9” tart pan. Trim excess dough at top of pan. Make holes with a fork on the bottom of the dough/crust. Cover the inside bottom of the crust with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill with some dry (uncooked) rice or beans as weight. Bake 10 minutes, then remove the paper/aluminum foil and the rice/beans, and bake 5 minutes more. Remove the tart pan from the oven and cool it for 10 minutes.

Slice plums lengthwise around (and then discarding) the pit and arrange them nicely in the dough/crust. Mix the honey, lemon juice and zest in a small bowl and drizzle over the plums. Bake about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest to cool.

Garnish with chopped pistachios or almonds.

Note:  It will be beautiful and slightly sour... which is so good!

Wine suggestions: well chilled Muscat wine (e.g., Asti Spumante or Moscato d' Asti - sparkling wine from Piedmont, Italy. Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise - Southern Rhone, France).

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Best Peach Ice Cream

I’ll never forget a peach ice cream – the best I’ve ever tasted – that I had while I was working in the kitchen of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. I was a prep cook and my work station was right next to the pastry department. Lindsey Shere, pastry chef /co-owner of the restaurant at the time, and I had almost the same work schedule – every weekday morning to mid afternoon.

She was a very quiet, gentle and beautiful woman who had superb knowledge of fresh fruits and baking ingredients. (I don’t think she went to any pastry school or worked at any pastry shop before opening the restaurant with chef/co-owner Alice Waters. Alice also had never gone to any cooking school or worked for other restaurants.)

Lindsey mostly worked quietly by herself, yet she was fast and precise about every detail. She was as professional as the best chefs, even while working almost non-stop with only a couple tea breaks. I loved working with her and being able to indulge in her daily changing seasonal dessert creations. She was very generous with tastes of everything she was making. It was heaven!

The restaurant itself does a daily changing prix-fixe menu, plus they often had special events, so we were always very busy. However, once in awhile, when we had an easy day and could have lunch together in the small garden at the back of the restaurant, Lindsey often told me stories about the best seasonal local fruits and other ingredients. Her philosophy is to achieve the best taste/flavor for everything... never just making it look pretty. Her pastry creations seem simple, but once you have tasted them you never forget the taste... ever!

Fresh Peach Ice Cream

Recipe adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts
By Lindsey Remolif Shere

Makes a generous quart

1 ½ cups organic heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
3 organic egg yolks
1 pound very ripe, good-flavored white peaches or nectarines
½  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or to taste

Make the custard a day ahead so it can chill: Warm the cream and ½ cup sugar in a non-corroding saucepan until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, just enough to mix them, then stir in some of the hot cream mixture to heat them. Return cream mixture to the stove and slowly add the egg mixture, cooking over low-medium heat until it thickens enough to coat the spoon (about 2-3 minutes). Do not let it boil. Strain into a container and chill overnight.

 When you are ready to freeze the ice cream, peel and pit the peaches and cut into thin slices into a bowl. Toss them with the remaining ¼ cup sugar and let stand an hour or so until the sugar is dissolved.

Crush the peaches with a potato masher or something that will crush them fine, but don’t purée them. You don’t want large chunks of peach, which will freeze like pieces of gravel in your ice cream; you do want tiny pieces of peach. You should have about 1 ½ cups of peaches and juice. Mix this with the custard and add the vanilla to taste. Immediately freeze (by churning) according to the directions for your ice cream maker.

Note: This is delicious served with a few Lace Cookies or Langues de Chat (shaped like a cat’s tongue). These cookies are very easy to make, and you can use the leftover egg whites from making the ice cream.


Recipe adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts
By Lindsey Remolif Shere

For 30 cookies, 2½ by ½ inches each

¼ cup soft unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
a few drops of pure vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/3 cup all-purpose flour


Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until fluffy. Beat in the egg whites just enough to blend them and then the flour only until mixed—do not over beat. Butter and flour a baking sheet.
Using a pastry bag with a plain, round 3/8-inch opening, pipe out the tongues about 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Hold the tip almost vertical to the baking sheet and very close to it so that you get a very thin layer of batter (2 ½ inches long).

Bake in a preheated 425°F oven for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the cookies have browned lightly around the edges but are paler in the center. Remove them immediately from the baking sheet to a cooling rack. If they harden before you can take them off the sheet, return the pan to the oven briefly to soften them again.

Store Langues de Chat in an airtight container until serving time.

Note: If you like crunchy cookies, add 1-2 tablespoons almond flour to the batter.

Enjoy the best peach ice cream!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Provencal Roast/Grilled Chicken

Summer is in full swing all over the Bay Area. The temperature goes up to the 80s in mid-afternoon, and evenings are warm (cooler if close to the ocean or Bay). It can be hot during the day, but you don't sweat, because there’s little humidity. It's very comfortable (unlike the rest of America, which is having a heat wave), and of course perfect weather for cooking and dining outdoors.
Americans love chicken, but nowadays boneless, skinless chicken rules – 8 out of 10 people order it in a restaurant or purchase it for cooking at home. The more economical option is to buy a whole chicken; it is also simple to cook and the best way to get a flavorful chicken. This recipe originally contains no chili powder or paprika (more garlic and herbs instead) but I modified it for the younger crowds' taste buds. It comes out with beautiful color... and smells so good! If you still do not want the skin, simply remove it just before eating. You will find tender, moist meat below the skin.

When cooking a whole bird in an outside broiler/grill, make sure not to place the bird directly over the fire (dripping fat from the chicken can catch fire) until the last 5-6 minutes, or you will get a really black bird.

Roast/Grilled Chicken—Poulet aux Herbes à la Rôti
Serves 4-5
1 (3 ½ - 4 pound) whole chicken

1 ½ tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder (optional)
1 tablespoon paprika (pimentón)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons Dijon prepared mustard
5 tablespoons olive oil
zest of 1 lemon or ½ orange

Run a sharp knife from top to bottom (between the breasts) to cut open the chicken. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.

For the marinade:
In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients (salt, pepper, chili powder and paprika), then add remaining ingredients (rosemary, thyme, garlic, mustard, olive oil and zest). Stir to mix well. Place chicken in bowl, rub the marinade on both sides of chicken, cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 2 hours or (preferably) overnight in refrigerator.

To cook the chicken:
1. If the chicken was marinated overnight in refrigerator, bring it to room temperature at least a half hour before cooking.
2. Preheat oven or grill to 400° F. Place the chicken skin side down over rack or aluminum foil in a baking pan (save the marinade for basting the chicken later).
3. Cook about 20 minutes, then turn chicken skin side up and cook another 20 minutes.
4. At this point, brush the remaining marinade on top of the chicken, then increase the oven temperature to 425° F, or increase grill flame if using BBQ/grill.
5. Roast about another 7-8 minutes, or change the setting and broil for 5-6 minutes or until top of chicken is a beautiful mahogany (golden brown) and some parts of the chicken are charred. Or, if grilling, place chicken directly on grill for 5-6 minutes to finish.
6. Rest the chicken at least 10 minutes at room temperature before cutting/serving. 

Ready to go into the oven or outdoor broiler.

The chicken would look like this when it's done.

 Note: This chicken will taste delicious even after chilling (ideal for picnics or a buffet in the garden).

Serve with a garden salad and olives from the South of France, plus couscous or quinoa dressed with olive oil, chopped flat-leaf parsley and red onion (couscous and quinoa, are quick-cooking grains that you can prepare easily while roasting/grilling the chicken).

Wine suggestions: I love to serve this dish with Bandol red wine from Provence. It is made with at least 50% Mourvèdre, the principal grape in big, robust wines like Barolo from Piedmont, Italy. But Bandol is not easy to find in the U.S., so my next choice would be a red Côte de Rhône, especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas. Not cheap, but worth it if you are able to discover a good one.  I would also recommend red Zinfandel wine (grown only in California). Zinfandel is generally not big (except maybe in alcohol content), robust or complex, but some Zins made from old vines are delicious and perfect for summer barbeque. Check the label to see if it is made from old vines. For information about Zinfandel, click here and see p. 2.