Monday, June 29, 2015

Good Wine for This Summer -- get a case!

It's hot, full sun here in California. The air is crisp and dry and the sky completely blue from horizon to horizon. It is time to buy wines for summer. LA FERME JULIEN is my first choice for this summer. They are from the south of France, made by the well-known Perrin family. As the quote from its back label says  "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Leonardo da Vinci".

Yes they are simple wines, but quite good. They have been my regular dinner wine for some time, and I always keep a few bottles in my closet (i.e., wine cellar). I particularly like the Red (rich and flavorful, good for BBQ and of course for anything else) and Rose (light and bone dry -- always in my refrigerator for an aperitif). The White is also light and dry but a bit herby. They are very food-friendly wines and affordable. What's not to like about that? They are available at Trader Joe's for $4.95 a bottle. Thank you Trader Joe's!

I also must mention the "CHARLES SHAW" wine exclusively sold at Trader Joe's. It is now legendary, with an astonishing 600 million bottles sold in the last decade.

The CHARLES SHAW brand changed the wine world: It created a huge new market of wine lovers in America, while making many wine snobs irrelevant, including me. It's fair to say this is not great wine, but its quality is incredible for the price (currently $2.49 per bottle). However, most importantly, CHARLES SHAW has educated American consumers about wine, and made it more accessible to more people. And I'll bet part of Trader Joe's success is due in no small part to CHARLES SHAW wine. They sell case after case.

CHARLES SHAW wines have democratized wine in America by allowing many people to graduate from box and jug wine, talk like old wine snobs, and buy wine by the case... for the price of a bottle of most other wines. It is amazing. Needless to say, if you have never had it you must go get some.

Here is the "CHARLES SHAW" lineup.

At Trader Joe's Market in San Carlos, California:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cherry Clafoutis -- Make this now!

Strawberry season is ending.  After gorging on strawberries,  we’re now in a big cherry season... but it’s peaking. Before they are gone completely, I must follow my annual ritual of making “Cherry Clafoutis.” As a lover of French food, I always make cherry clafoutis at least once this time of the year at home as well as at work. I love all kinds of custard desserts, but this one is very special to me, because of  some unforgettable memories that I don’t want to lose!

Cherry clafoutis is a very popular vanilla-flavored pudding -like dessert  that is best eaten at room temperature. It is studded  with cherries, but many other kinds of fruit can be substituted, such as apricots, raspberries or plums (I have a big plum tree in my back yard; they are ripening and should be ready to eat in a week). For French people this dessert is a must-make, or at least eat, in cherry season!

In France, they normally do not pit the cherries for traditional cherry clafoutis –it is enjoyed with the pits for the added depth to the dessert’s  delicate flavor. However, here in California the sun is so strong and the cherries have so much flavor that I often pit them; and particularly at work, so that I don’t have to warn our guests.

Cherry Clafoutis

Recipe adapted and modified from La Tartine Gourmande, by Béatrice Peltre

Serves 6

You will need:  one 12-inch clafoutis mold or six 8-oz baking dishes (ramekins)

Unsalted butter, for the mold
½ cup blond cane sugar, plus more to sprinkle in the mold(s)
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 ml) whole milk (not low fat)
¾ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
¾ cup all-purpose flour (or brown rice or sorghum flour for gluten-free clafoutis)
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 pound + 5 ¼ oz (600 g) ripe sweet or sour cherries (such as Rainier or Bing)
Confectioners’ sugar to dust the custard

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 12-inch mold, or six 8-oz cup ramekins, and sprinkle with the sugar; tap the excess out.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and cream until just about boiling point and add the vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the sugar and flour. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the warm milk/cream mixture and melted butter. Arrange the cherries in the mold or individual ramekins and pour the batter on top.
  4. Place the clafoutis in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or 25 to 30 minutes if you are using ramekins—until the flan/custard is set and golden in color. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cherry Garcia Ice Cream

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the weather has finally gotten hot. That means ice cream season of course, but cherries are in high season also. They have a short season, but are abundant in markets everywhere right now… sweet and juicy, and looking beautiful! I love to eat them plain, but then I get flashbacks of when I used to eat Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” ice cream.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream was (and I guess still is) so popular with their unique combinations of flavors, such as “Chunky Monkey”, “Chubby Hubby” and “Mint Chocolate Cookie”, with a lot of nuts and chocolate… mmmm. I wasn’t so crazy about some of the others, with over-mixed flavors and too many ingredients. But I loved “Cherry Garcia” …maybe because I love cherries and dark chocolate. It’s a simple but great combination, which I always thought was a brilliant idea. Needless to say, it was often in my freezer.

However, as with Häagen-Dazs ice cream (I also once loved their “Rum Raisin”), Yoplait yogurt, and other brands that got so popular and then were bought out by big food corporations, the taste faded out quickly and, sadly, I had to find new sweet addictions.

Now those original tastes/flavors have become legendary, and I am grateful that I could experience and love them… like favorite old girl friends. To get that flavor/experience back, I now make my own. 

Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia Ice Cream
Recipe adapted from Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book (1987), by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield
Makes about 1 quart (4 cups)
1/3 cup dark chocolate (bitter or semi-sweet) chopped into small pieces
1/3 cup Bing cherries, fresh or frozen, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 large, very fresh eggs or 4 egg yolks*
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy or whipping cream

  1. Place chopped chocolate and cherries into different bowls and place bowls in the refrigerator. You want to keep all ingredients cold.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. Whisk in the sugar a little at a time, and then continue whisking until completely blended.  Add milk and heavy cream and whisk to blend thoroughly. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and chill at least 2 hours.
  3. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and churn/freeze following the manufacturer's instructions, about 15 -20 minutes.
  4. When the ice cream stiffens, and about 2 minutes before it is done, add the chocolate and cherries, then continue freezing until the ice cream is ready. Transfer to a container and chill at least 2 hours.

*Note: For best results, make a custard first (instead of step 2):Mix the sugar and milk in a small saucepan and heat slowly over medium-low heat. Before it gets to boiling stage, remove it from heat, add egg yolks and whisk well. Bring back to the stovetop and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a clean bowl and whisk in the heavy cream. Chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours. Continue at step 3.