Friday, August 28, 2009

Green Fields And Flowers

On Sunday we left my energetic seaside town that has a dance...tango...tangle of people and cars, and went to the midwest. It is a land of Firemen's festivals, country fairs and "hello, how are you doing?" We stayed with my sister Sandy and her husband, who live down a country road of just a few homes. They have their own lake out back and across the lane is a neighbor's field of haystacks and occasionally visiting horses behind a barbed wire fence...none were there that day. The rest of the family usually converge here from the nearby city as we catch up while the kids squeal with delight on the tire swing, catch slippery frogs, go for a paddle boat ride or just run and see what nature has brought today. The crickets and birds chime in the background. Sometimes in the morning when you wake up early enough, you can hear a neighboring rooster crow, "good morning!" At dinnertime, if there is a last minute extra mouth to feed, my brother-in-law volunteers to run down to the farm stand and get a few more ears of corn as my sister effortlessly turns out a meal for a crowd.

Then the time came when we had to leave. The plane lifted off and we reluctantly left the fields of green and family behind until next time.
Back at home, I looked at my own small garden and picked some lettuce that wants to bolt from the simmering sun we've had lately. The arugula already had some peppery flower heads, and the herbs are all flowering as they ready for the fall and its welcome crisp air. All I really wanted today was a salad of greens and tomatoes, no cukes, just the greens and the flowering herbs blessed with a light vinaigrette. It almost looked more like a bouquet of late summer than a salad, and it tasted sweet with an herbal headiness. If you close your eyes gently, you might be somewhere in a field of greens and flowers.
Field Greens and Herb Salad

6 ounces mesclun greens
1 ounce assorted herbs, such as basil, thyme, chives, dill, tarragon, mint
assorted herb flowers

For a composed salad, arrange mesclun greens, herbs and herb flowers on individual plates and drizzle vinaigrette over them. For a tossed salad, chop herbs, and toss with mesclun greens, herb flowers and vinaigrette.

Serves 4.

White Wine Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons white balsamic or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk vinegar into olive oil until thickened and emulsified. Whisk in Dijon mustard and sea salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 1/3 cup.

Field Greens and Herb Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette (pdf)

~Thanks to Sandy and Don for being such wonderful hosts and to the the family for great fun. And thanks Zac, for some of the great pics taken with your 40 year old Praktica film camera.

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Monday, August 24, 2009


Today is my daughter's birthday and she is living half way around the world in Seoul, South Korea. I had to make her a cake...what is a birthday without a cake from mom? She usually asks for cheesecake, but I thought I'd make a cute little cupcake just for her until I saw a 4 inch round springform pan in the store. Then the cake would be just for her...a virtual birthday cake. So I took our favorite cheesecake recipe and put a portion into the pan that fits in the palm of my hand. It almost seemed like I was baking in my "Easy Bake" oven and pans of childhood. This cake was so cute it didn't really need much, but since this was a special day I dressed it up. I made a white chocolate ganache to frost it with and sprinkled it lightly with some Lavender Sugar I had just made. I wanted a ribbon to tie around it, and found beautiful organza ribbons at a local store that made me think of the little dresses she wore as a baby.Happy Birthday Sam....I am sending this as a virtual special delivery for you! It tasted, a-hem...I mean it will taste so good when you come back home! We miss you!
Cream Cheesecake

(Adapted from "The Cake Bible", by Rose Levy Berenbaum)

16 ounces cream cheese (low fat or regular), room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
optional: 1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups sour cream (low fat or regular)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Have a roaster pan or 10 inch cake pan ready that will fit an 8 inch round pan. Line the bottom of a greased 8x2 ½ inch springform pan with parchment or wax paper. Use heavy duty aluminum foil, and double wrap the outside of the pan all the way up to the top. This is important so the water doesn’t seep into the pan.

If desired, line the bottom of the pan with a graham cracker crust or crust of your choice.

In a large mixing bowl beat the cream cheese and sugar until very smooth. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition until smooth and scraping down the sides. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, optional cornstarch and salt and beat until incorporated. Beat in the sour cream just until blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Set the pan in the larger roaster pan and surround it with 1 inch of very hot water. Bake 45 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour. Remove to a rack and cool to room temperature (about 1 hour). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To unmold: Have ready a serving plate and a flat plate at least 8 inches in diameter, covered with plastic wrap. Run a thin metal spatula around the side of the cake and release the sides of the springform pan. Place the plastic wrapped plate on top and invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment. Reinvert onto the serving plate and use a small metal spatula to smooth the sides. Refrigerate until shortly before serving.

~My thoughts and notes:

This may also be easily prepared in the food processor.

The cheesecake is light and creamy, even made with low fat cream cheese and sour cream. I actually prefer it this way. It is firm enough to make without a crust, but is delicious with all types of crusts. I like a graham cracker crust, since I mostly serve it with a fruit based topping. I often use my blackberry or blueberry ginger jam on top. Spoon the jam evenly on the top just prior to serving.

If using smaller 4 inch springform pans, use 4 and bake only ½ hour.

To make a frosted and decorated cake, frost with a White Chocolate Ganache and add flowers, ribbons or any decoration of your choice.

White Chocolate Ganache
(Adapted from “The Cake Bible”, by Rose Levy Berenbaum)

3 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Using a double broiler or microwave, melt the chocolate with 1⁄4 cup cream. Remove from heat before chocolate is fully melted and stir until melted. Set aside until no longer warm. In a chilled mixing bowl, beat the remaining cream until traces of beater makes just begin to show distinctly. Add the white chocolate mixture and beat until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised.

Makes 2 cups or enough to frost one 8 inch by 3 inch layer cake. Lasts 1 day room temperature or 1 week refrigerated.

Cream Cheesecake recipe (pdf)
White Chocolate Ganache recipe (pdf)

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Lavender Sugar

In my garden, I have a walkway that is lined with lavender. The flower heads lean over the flagstones as they reach for the sun, brushing up against me as I walk along. The fresh relaxing scent of lavender is released, reminding me to slow down and breathe deeply. Sometimes I stop and press the flower between my fingers to get an extra waft of the romantic fragrance. I have tucked it in my drawers, put it in bowls in my living room and made small pillows to give sweet dreams. I love it in food...sweet or why not add it to sugar for everyday use? I had a jar of white sparkling sugar and plenty of lavender flowers to harvest, so I mixed them together. Now I will have another reminder of summer's sunshine and thoughts of lavender fields, near and far.For your Lavender Sugar always only use lavender that has not been sprayed with any pesticides. If you buy the flowers, you can never be sure if they are pesticide free unless stated. I like the look of seeing the loose flowers in the sugar, but if you only want the flavor, tie them in cheesecloth. This sugar may be used to flavor cakes, cookies, ice cream or to simply put in your tea. It makes a great gift, especially if it's from your own garden.

Lavender Sugar

8 ounces white sparkling sugar or white granulated sugar
3 tablespoons lavender flowers, removed from stem

Mix sugar and lavender together and store in an airtight container. If you don't want the loose flowers in the sugar, tie the lavender flowers into a small piece of double cheesecloth and remove after 2 weeks. It takes about 2 weeks for the flowers to flavor the sugar.
To use, sprinkle into tea, on pastries or bake with it.

Lavender Sugar recipe (pdf)

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Daylily Tarragon Chicken Salad

As I was looking at my daughter's vacation pictures from Cambodia on Facebook, my friend Debbie (another stew) called with a great idea. She just had a luncheon of lobster salad nestled inside colorful day lilies. She scooped up the lobster with the daylily petals, eating lobster salad and petal together. This sounded like a pretty and pretty unusual presentation. I did some research here and found that daylilies are not only edible, but have a long history in Chinese medicine and cuisine. I have a daylily bed with a wide variation in color and blooming time. I love the pinks, corals and purple all combined together, but today I was inspired by the golden and deep orange of the Cambodian Buddhist Monk's robe. The common orange daylily looked exotic as it enshrined the Tarragon Chicken Salad I made to go in it. It made me think of my daughter as she lives half way around the world, teaching art and learning about other cultures. Wanderlust seems to run in the family! Use your imagination and be inspired by your own daylilies and life to make this platter of happiness.
Tarragon Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked chicken, cut into 1/4 inch cube
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup champagne grapes (you may use larger grapes, just cut them in half)

In a medium bowl, mix chicken, mayonnaise, and tarragon together. Salt and pepper to taste and fold in the grapes.

Serves 4.

To use a daylily to fill with chicken salad, remove the stamen and pistil. Lightly rinse the flower and shake any excess water out, before filling.

Tarragon Chicken Salad recipe (pdf)

Thanks Debbie and Sam for the inspiration!

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Julia!

As a young wife and mother I began cooking meals on a regular basis. My earlier vagabond traveling lifestyle allowed for experimentation in many food fads. However, my Julia Child cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” traveled from the east coast to the west coast and back again. Along with a few other treasures packed in cardboard boxes, it was jammed into my yellow VW bug for the journey. Once settled into our stable household, it became a regular source for my cooking. My young daughter loved cheese souffle, quiche with ham and leeks and Boeuf Bourguignon. My son preferred chocolate mousse and classic roasted chicken with herb de Provence to any more complex French concoctions. The first flourless chocolate cake I made came from Julia Child. And Steak Diane...well, it had my name all over it! I watched Julia Child on PBS as she came to us from 15 miles away through the airwaves. It was real and alive with her singsong voice and exuberant ways. She drop kicked perfection out of the door, and invited in fun with her rich butter and cream filled meals.

In honor of her birthday, I thought I’d make her Chocolate Mousse. I knew I’d have plenty of teenage boy's mouths willing to celebrate her day. In many French restaurants, Chocolate Mousse is often served alongside a Mother Bowl to spoon this light confection from. I think next time I’ll have to make a larger bowl!

Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck)

4 egg yolks
¾ cups superfine sugar
¼ cup orange liqueur

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons strong coffee
6 ounces softened unsalted butter
Optional: ¼ cup orange zest, very finely grated

4 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

In a 3 qt. mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back upon itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon. Beat in the orange liqueur. Then set mixing bowl over a pan of not-quite-simmering water and continue beating for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Then beat over cold water for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is cool and again forms the ribbon. It will have the consistency of mayonnaise.

Melt the chocolate with coffee over hot water. Remove from heat and beat in the butter a bit at a time, to make smooth a cream. Beat the chocolate into the egg yolks and sugar, then beat in the optional orange zest.

Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed. Add the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, and then fold in the rest, being careful not to deflate the mixture. Turn into dessert cups and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Makes about 5 cups, serving 6-8 people.

Happy Birthday, Julia! Thanks for the memories.

Chocolate Mousse recipe (pdf)

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back at home...Mushroom Cheese Crepes

Crepes are such a versatile food with their velvety suppleness. They can be street food, an every day meal or dressed up for a formal occasion, all depending on the filling and topping. On chilly days in Paris, I love to get a freshly made, hot crepe as I walk around. It warms the hands and the tummy. In the summer, it is quick dining al fresco. And sometimes after a meal I don't have room for a large dessert, but during the walk back to the hotel, a dark chocolate or Nutella crepe fills in the gap. The performance of the street crepe maker as they swirl the batter to the hot edges of the pan and add each requested ingredient, is just as fulfilling as the crepe itself. One of my favorite savory crepes, that you can't get on the street, is filled with buttery gruyère cheese and an assortment of sauteed mushrooms. Adding a brandy cream sauce and some fresh thyme makes it just that much richer and more special. I made this for lunch the other day with a small green salad and still had a few leftover crepes for dessert....the sweet rendition will be left for another time, though. For now, the savory.....

Mushroom Cheese Crepes

Crepe Batter

1 large egg
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
pinch of salt
Butter, for the pan

In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour to rest. The batter will keep for up to 2 days.

Heat a medium crepe pan or non-stick pan over medium heat. Add just enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook until the crepe starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and is lightly brown on the underside. Turn over using a spatula, and cook until lightly brown on the other side. Put on a plate to cool and then you may stack them. Continue making the crepes until all of the batter is gone. Crepes can be made in advance and either refrigerated or frozen, before filling.

Mushroom Cheese Crepe Filling

8 ounces sliced Baby Bella mushrooms*
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brandy
3 tablespoons light cream**
sea salt and pepper to taste

1 1/3 cups shredded gruyère cheese

*you may use any assortment of mushrooms you like. I used a combination of Baby Bella, shitaki, chanterelle, dried portabella (soaked in water) and blue foot mushrooms.** If you want more cream sauce, just add another 3 tablespoons cream.

In a medium saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute mushrooms, shallots, and thyme until the mushrooms are cooked and the shallot is translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the brandy and cream and continue stirring until the cream is hot. Salt and pepper to taste.

Take a crepe and reheat in crepe pan. Add 1/3 cup shredded gruyère cheese on crepe and one fourth of the warm mushroom mixture. Heat until cheese melts. Fold into thirds, remove from pan and serve. Serves 4.

Mushroom Cheese Crepe recipe (pdf)

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