Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I'm Late! I'm Late! For a Very Important Date!

In 1999, the USDA proclaimed July to be National Blueberry Month, as stated:
  • WHEREAS blueberries are a native North American fruit produced in 35 states;
  • WHEREAS the pioneering work conducted in New Jersey by Elizabeth White and Dr. Fredrick Coville in the early 1900's to domesticate wild highbush blueberries resulted in the development of the hybrid for cultivated highbush blueberries;
  • WHEREAS blueberries are low in calories and sodium and a source of fiber and their consumption contributes to achieving the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation to choose a diet with plenty of fruit;
  • WHEREAS highbush blueberries are harvested from mid-April through early October with the harvest reaching its peak in July;
  • NOW, THEREFORE, to promote the greater appreciation and use of highbush blueberries, I, Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of July 1999 as "National Blueberry Month" and call upon all citizens to recognize and celebrate the highbush blueberry with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
Phew! That's a mouthful! So, in honor of National Blueberry Month, I give you "Blueberry Strata," from the Rocky Mountain Lodge and Cabins in Cascade, Colorado. This blissful breakfast strata makes good use of the plethora of blueberries which are inescapable in July. Requiring a bountiful 3 cups of blueberries, further enhanced with cream cheese, maple syrup, cinnamon, and a brilliant blueberry syrup (that can be used as a topping for pancakes, crepes, and blintzes), this is one recipe you should try! The best part is that you make it the night before and bake it in the morning for a refreshing change to your breakfast routine! NOW, GO FORTH and MAKITH!


Blueberry Strata

Serves 12, but can be successfully halved

For the Strata
1 loaf French Bread, cubed
1, 8-ounce package cream cheese, frozen for about 4 hours (I don't bother to freeze it!)
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (You better use fresh in July!)
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1/3 cup maple syrup (use the real stuff!)
Cinnamon, to taste (I recommend at least a teaspoon!)

For the Blueberry Syrup
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (You better use fresh in July!)
1 tablespoon butter

For the Strata
Place 2/3 bread cubes in a greased 13" x 9" dish. Cut cream cheese in small pieces and sprinkle over bread, top with blueberries and remaining bread.

In a large bowl beat eggs, milk, maple syrup and cinnamon; pour evenly over bread. Cover the surface flush with plastic wrap, weight down with whatever you have in the pantry (see Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere), and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, uncover the strata and set on counter for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover strata with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes; uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until golden brown and center is set. Remove from oven and let set 5-10 minutes.

Cut strata into 12 pieces. Top with blueberry syrup.

For the Blueberry Syrup
Prepare syrup while strata is baking. In a medium saucepan, mix sugar and cornstarch. Add water, bring to a boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened.

Stir in blueberries, reduce heat and simmer 8-10 minutes more.

Stir in butter until melted, keep warm until serving time. Drizzle over strata.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Faux Pavlovas - The Great Pretender

Concluding my trilogy about the versatility of Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream), I have to include my simple version of "Mini Pavlovas with Pastry Cream and Berries!" These meringue shells filled with pastry cream, topped with berries, and brushed with a simple fruit glaze are sure to please any sweet tooth! Technically, pavlovas are a meringue-based dessert with a crisp crust and soft inside, thanks to the addition of cornstarch, then topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit, particularly kiwi and strawberries. Pavlovas are believed to have been created in New Zealand in 1926, to honor Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, while on her world tour. However, Australia has been rumored to stake claim on the invention of this classic dessert. Who knows? But for now, we'll let them duke it out. 

The key to this fabulous version is to have all the elements made in advance - pastry cream chilling in the fridge, meringues baked earlier in the day, fruit washed and ready to go, and the glaze made and waiting to christen these stunning desserts! Then, when your meal is over, it takes only minutes to put together just before serving. You and your guests will love it, and they'll think you're amazing!

Mini Pavlovas with Pastry Cream and Berries

Makes 4


2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
About 1 cup Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream)
Berries of your choice, strawberries go particularly well here
Spoonful of strawberry or apricot jelly or jam (if you use jam, you will need to strain out the solids)
Spoonful of water


For the meringue shells:
Heat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and sugar until smooth and glossy, and firm peaks start to form, about 10 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Fill a pastry bag with a large star tip and pipe out 4 shells, approximately 4" in diameter. Don't forget to make the edges higher to hold the pastry cream.

Place in the oven and bake until completely dry and easily release from the parchment. This can take anywhere from 2-3 hours, depending on the oven and humidity. Remove from oven and set aside until ready to use. Do not refrigerate!

For the glaze
Heat a spoonful of jelly or jam with a spoonful of water to make a thin glaze. If using jam, strain out any solids. Set aside until ready to use.

Finishing the dish
Whisk pastry cream until smooth and creamy. Spoon into shells.

Top with berries, hopefully in a beautiful way, and brush lightly with the glaze. Serve immediately. Fantastic!

You may also be interested in Fungus Among Us and Tres Chic.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tres Chic!

Have you made your Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream) yet? If so, I would like to share the world's easiest and quite delicious desserts, "Strawberry Tartlets!" This "recipe" comes from The Little Paris Kitchen, by Rachel Khoo and calls for three ingredients: shortbread cookies, strawberries, and the ever versatile creme patissiere. These adorable "tarts" are the perfect small bite to end any fabulous meal and take only minutes to make! I prefer Walker's Highlanders shortbread cookies, which can sometimes be hard to find here in the US, but I have found them at World Market and they are available from Amazon in a convenient four pack. So break out your pastry bag (or a plastic sandwich bag/corner snipped) and try these charming petite tarlets!

Strawberry Tartlets

1 cup chilled Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream)
4 round shortbread biscuits (like Walker's Highlanders)
12-15 small strawberries

Beat the pastry cream until smooth. Put it into a piping bag fitted with a round 3/8" nozzle and pip a small blob in the middle of each biscuit (leave some room around the edge for the strawberries). Cut the strawberries in half and stick them around the pastry cream. Serve as soon as you can.

For more about The Little Paris Kitchen, see The Little Paris Kitchen and Tea Time for Madeleine.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Vive Le Tour!

Sunday is the last day of Le Tour de France, when the riders will conclude the Tour in the city of lights with a twilight ride from Versailles to the Champs-Elysees! I can't wait! So in honor of this historic centennial race, I am planning a fabulous French menu complete with the epitome of French desserts, "Creme Patissiere" or "Pastry Cream!" Who wouldn't like a luscious dessert of sweet vanilla custard? This creamy concoction is so versatile and a staple of any baker's repertoire. You can fill eclairs, make millefeuilles (aka., Napoleons), use as a base for tarts, layer in cakes, make a trifle or mini-trifles, the list goes on and on. If that's not enough, you can swap out the vanilla for unsweetened cocoa powder, instant coffee powder, infuse the milk with tea, add citrus zest, replace some of the milk with fruit juice, or spice it up with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, etc. You really need to know how to do this!

The biggest problem with Creme Patissiere is that there are so many recipes, which should you choose? Some call for cornstarch, some use flour instead, some use a combination of both, some add butter, some don't, some use a vanilla bean, some use vanilla extract, it's all so perplexing. But don't worry, I've tried them all - really!- and the most consistent recipe, that I've decided to be my staple, is from the Culinary Institute of America. It always comes out creamy and smooth and never too stiff or cornstarchy. You'll need two large bowls, one for the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture, one to make an ice bath (ice/cold water), and a medium saucepan to cook it, that's it! The best part of Creme Patissiere is that it's fast, about 15-20 minutes (not including the time it sits in the ice bath) and it's done. Just remember to make it ahead to allow time for it to chill in the refrigerator before serving. C'est bon!

Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream)

Makes about 2 cups


1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar (If you prefer a less sweet version, as I do, omit the 1/4 cup sugar in the cornstarch/eggyolk mixture.)
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup sugar (if using) in a mixing bowl and stir in 1/2 cup milk. Blend the egg yolks into the cornstarch mixture until completely smooth. Set aside.

Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Combine the vanilla bean and seeds with remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and the pinch of salt in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the vanilla to infuse the milk for about 10 minutes. 

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl big enough to allow the saucepan to rest in it.

When the milk is infused, remove the vanilla bean. Temper the egg mixture by gradually adding some of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. When all the milk is incorporated to the egg mixture, return the mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking over medium heat, vigorously whisking, until the mixture just comes to a boil and the whisk leaves a trail in the pastry cream, about 3-5 minutes. As soon as the cream reaches this stage, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Transfer the pan to the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the pastry cream is cool, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the pastry cream to a storage container and cover the top with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Return it to it's creamy texture by stirring it with a whisk before using.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cool and Classic!

While I'm continuing to follow Le Tour de France, I wanted to post a recipe from the French Alps, but it's just too hot! I can't bring myself to pull out my raclette, heat the oven for a tartiflette, or sit over a warm cheese fondue in the sweltering heat of July! However, if you feel inclined, check out Gratin Dauphinois and Cherry Clafoutis for a couple indigenous recipes from this beautiful landscape!

So, when it's too hot to cook, there is nothing better than a refreshing Cobb Salad loaded with seasonal fruits and vegetables, chicken, eggs, blue cheese, and the ever important bacon! Cobb Salad was created at the legendary Brown Derby in Hollywood. (Unfortunately, it is no longer there, literally, the building was torn down in 1983.) According to The Brown Derby Restaurant, by Sally Wright Cobb, Cobb Salad was created in 1973, by then owner Bob Cobb, from leftovers he found in the restaurant refrigerator. The salad was so good, it was immediately added to the menu and became an overnight sensation! Not only is it a great way to use up leftovers, it makes a very satisfying meal, perfect on a hot summer day!

(It's very pretty!)

Classic Cobb Salad

Serves 6 as a main course

For the vinaigrette
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 medium garlic clove, minced (see Techniques)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the salad
1 small head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 bunch watercress (about 4 ounces), stemmed, chopped, if necessary (If you can't find or prefer not to use watercress, you can substitute arugula or spinach.)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked, cooled, and diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
3 hard-boiled eggs (see Techniques), diced
2 medium, ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, diced
8 ounces bacon (about 8 slices), chopped, cooked, and cooled
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese (I wouldn't waste fabulous Roquefort for this recipe. Use Gorgonzola!)
3 tablespoons chives, chopped

For the vinaigrette
Mix together ingredients for the vinaigrette. Set aside and whisk to recombine before using.

For the salad
Mix the romaine and watercress together and place on a large platter or wide deep bowl, like for pasta. Arrange each ingredient in stripes on the greens. Sprinkle with the chives.

Just before serving, mix the the salad with the dressing. (Just like they did at the Brown Derby!)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fourth of July and a Stuffed Summer Sandwich

I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July, full of fireworks, cookouts, picnics, and parades! With all the festivities, I was reminded of my favorite "Stuffed Summer Sandwich," which I always take to firework shows, so I don't have to eat the garbage provided by the typical venders. This recipe from Cabin Cooking: Great Food for the Great Outdoors, by Williams-Sonoma, is perfect to make ahead, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate overnight to be sliced just before serving. It's so simple and embodies the best flavors of summer, like home-grown tomatoes and fresh basil, all enshrined in a tapenade-coated sourdough loaf! This is more a technique rather than a recipe, in which you can alter the ingredients to suit your taste. For instance, if you prefer a vegetarian version of this portable sandwich, replace the ham with sliced mozzarella, Monterey jack, or even grilled eggplant. If you don't like red bell peppers, leave them out. It's delicious, beautiful, and hearty enough for any meal on the go!

Stuffed Summer Sandwich

Serves 6


2 large red bell peppers
1 round loaf sourdough or coarse country bread
1 can (6 ounces) pitted black olives, drained
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb thinly sliced baked ham or prosciutto
1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves or 4-6 leaves of red-leaf lettuce


Preheat your broiler. Cut the bell peppers into quarters and remove the stems, seeds, and ribs. Place the quarters, cut sides down, on a baking sheet and broil about 4 inches below the heat until the skins blacken and blister. Transfer to a paper bag or bowl, close the bag or cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let steam until cool enough to handle. Peel off and discard the skins. Set the peppers aside.

Place the bread on a cutting board and, with the tip of a serrated knife, cut a large circle in the top about 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch from the edge. Pull out the circle of crust and remove all of the bread attached to it to make a lid. Pull out all of the bread from the interior of the loaf, leaving a shell 1/2 inch thick. Set the bread shell and lid aside. (Reserve the pulled-out bread for another use, like Chicken with Bread Bits and Lemon!)

In a blender or food processor, combine the olives, garlic, and olive oil. Process until very smooth. Using a rubber spatula, spread the olive paste around the inside of the bread shell and on the underside of the bread lid. (Alternatively, mince the olives and garlic, place in a small bowl and stir in the olive oil to make a coarse paste. Spread into shell.) Line the bread shell with half of the ham or prosciutto. 

Top with half of the roasted pepper quarters, then half the tomato slices seasoned with salt and pepper, and a few basil leaves or 2-3 lettuce leaves. Use just enough to cover the filling without overlapping too much.

Repeat the layers, ending with basil or lettuce. Replace the bread lid and press down lightly to compact the layers. Cut into wedges and serve.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Le Tour de France and La Cuisine Nicoise

Perhaps I'm in the minority here in the US, but I'm thoroughly enjoying watching Le Tour de France 2013! Not only is it the 100th year of this grueling race, it was the first time for the Mediterranean paradise of Corsica to host part of the Tour stage! Although I'm not that familiar with the rules and guidelines of the Tour, I'm watching it primarily for the scenery! Yesterday sadly concluded the portion in Corsica, but I will not soon forget the gorgeous scenery of mountains rising from the Mediterranean Sea! I will definitely keep dreaming of visiting this enchanted isle! 

So as the Tour continues today in Nice, I wanted to share "La Cuisine Nicoise" with a fabulous recipe for a "Tourta de Blettes," which is a sweet Swiss chard pie. This recipe for "Savory Swiss Chard Tart," from Laura Calder's French Taste, is not only striking with it's high crusty jagged peaks (like Corsica!) it is absolutely delicious! The combination of Swiss chard, shallots, bacon, raisins, pine nuts, Gruyere, and creme make the most fantastic savory tart! Laura suggests serving the tart in small slices for a first course, or enormous wedges for a picnic. All I suggest is that you make it, right now!

Savory Swiss Chard Tart

Serves 6-8

For the savory tart shell
2 cups flour
Pinch salt
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg

For the tart
1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard (about 2 bunches)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced (see Techniques)
4 slices of bacon, cut into lardons (thin slices crosswise)
3 eggs
1 cup creme fraiche, or heavy cream and sour cream combined
Salt and pepper
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
A handful of raisins
A handful of toasted pine nuts
9" springform pan

For the savory tart shell
Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in the butter, and pinch with the fingers to make fine crumbs. (Or pulse in food processor until coarse texture.) Make a well in the middle. Stir together the eggs and pour into the well. Swiftly mix in with fingertips until the mixture forms a dough. Do not over-mix, as it toughens the dough. (Or pulse in food processor being careful not to over-mix.) Form into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and chill at least an hour before rolling out and lining your tart pan. (Laura says you will require approximately 1 1/3 disks for the springform pan, but I used both.) Chill another 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line the pastry with a large piece of parchment in such a way that you can lift it out partway through cooking, and pour in dried beans right to the very top of the pastry. (I have a jar of beans that I use over and over again for this process.) 

Bake the shell for 12 minutes. At this point, lift out the parchment and beans (the tart will have set enough not to shrink by now), put the tart straight back in the oven, reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking until it is just starting to show signs of color on the base, 10-15 minutes more. Set aside until ready to use.

For the tart
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the chard leaves from the thick ribs. Chop the ribs and stems quite small, and shred the leaves. Set aside separately.

Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and fry the shallots until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, and fry for 1 minute. Remove to a large bowl. In the same pan, fry the bacon until cooked but not crisp. Add it to the shallots. Fry the chard ribs in the bacon fat until tender, 7-10 minutes. (You may want to cover the pan for a few minutes to speed this up.) Stir in the chard leaves, cover, and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes.

Beat the eggs together with the creme fraiche. Season with salt and pepper. To the shallots, add the chard, cheese, raisins, and pine nuts; toss to combine evenly. Taste, and season. Fill the tart shell with the vegetable mixture,

and pour over the cream mixture.

Bake until the tart has set, about 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature.