Goodbye, Mardi Gras. Hello, Lent.

IMG_1580Lent.  So much more somber than Mardi Gras.  As TheUpperRoom.org puts it:

“Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God.  In earlier times, people used Lent as a time of fasting and repentance. Since they didn’t want to be tempted by sweets, meat and other distractions in the house, they cleaned out their cabinets. They used up all the sugar and yeast in sweet breads before the Lent season started, and fixed meals with all the meat available. It was a great feast! Through the years Mardi Gras has evolved (in some places) into a pretty wild party with little to do with preparing for the Lenten season of repentance and simplicity. Oh well. But Christians still know it’s origin, and hang onto the true Spirit of the season.”

As for me and my family, we always enjoy the bit of celebration that signifies Mardi Gras, once again spent at home and not reveling in the streets.  The dish for this year was the savory, slowly developed flavors of Gumbo.

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It’s all about the mis-en-place.  Here are the basic ingredients for developing a savory broth to be used in the Gumbo:  bacon, chicken, onion, carrot & celery chunks, bay leaf and salt, plus water.

 

The bacon is fried until crisp, then set aside for later.  IMG_1568The chicken chunks are added to the bacon drippings and browned.

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The additional broth ingredients are added to the chicken, brought to a boil, then reduced to simmer for 35 minutes, uncovered.

IMG_1570Next comes that all-important Creole ingredient, roux.  IMG_1576

1/3 cup oil is heated over low heat in a heavy saucepan.  Then 1/2 cup flour is whisked in until smooth and cooked, stirring frequently, until medium brown, about 30 minutes.

This was my first time taking my time to develop a nice roux.  And the pumped-up flavor of the finished gumbo reflected this darker roux, darker than the traditional French roux.

Once the chicken and broth is finished, the chicken is removed, cooled, and cut into cubes.  The broth is strained and returned to the pot.  The darkened roux is stirred in.  The chicken, crisped bacon, and remaining ingredients, except shrimp, are stirred in.

IMG_1574The Cajun/Creole version of mirepoix, the Holy Trinity:  Onion, Bell Pepper, Celery

  • Corn
  • Okra
  • Canned Tomatoes
  • Parsley
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Bottled Red Pepper Sauce, yep, Tabasco

All these delicious ingredients are stirred in and simmered, covered, for about 1-1/2 hours.  This extended simmering time really lets the flavors develop, along with the from-scratch broth and that nice darkened roux.

IMG_1577Shrimp is added and simmered for about 10 minutes. Then you can dish your Gumbo into a soup bowl or pile it onto a scoop of rice, like we did.  A savory and satisfying dish to welcome Lent.  Oh, and a wedge of muffaletta and an Abita.  ‘Til next year, cheers!

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Chocolate, Be My Valentine

 

3d-red-heart-popping-off-the-chocolate-computer-valentine-3d-i-100169071It seems no matter how one feels about Valentine’s Day (love it, despise it, just another day), similar feelings run deep about chocolate (love it, despise it, just another food).  Chocolate has been linked with Valentine’s Day for a while.  As YourTango.com says:

“We all know chocolate is an aphrodisiac. It contains an endorphin called phenylethylamine, levels of which in the brain have been linked to falling in love. Chocolate has been used as a gift since the days of the Aztecs, who believed it to be a source of spiritual wisdom, energy and higher sexual prowess. It was used as a nuptial aid and served at wedding ceremonies. How could the Aztecs be wrong?”

I do like chocolate.  A lot.  Especially dark chocolate with a higher cacao percentage (I’ve been known to chow down on a certain 99% cacao chocolate bar from a little chocolatier in Santa Barbara).  So for Valentine’s Day, and many other “special” occasions, I bring out that Betty Crocker’s Pot de Creme au Chocolat (poh-de-krem-o-cho-ko-la) recipe that I’ve been using since I was in High School.

The French came up with this “pot of creme” dessert in the 17th century, but don’t go with the water bath version.  It won’t have the silky mouthfeel that this technique has.  It’s so simple with its classic technique, why go anywhere else?  My only variations are using a dark, high cacao chocolate (instead of sweet chocolate) and adding a lavender infusion.

Lavender Pot de Creme au Chocolat

For two 4-ounce servings or four 2-ounce servings (It’s rich! I find smaller is better!):

HWl5SubmoGVTXWM60IC-Rq6JZaE3EDnQtY2xlMo-k88In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup heavy cream almost to a boil.  Add 2 tablespoons lavender buds.  Remove from heat and cover.  Allow to steep for 30 minutes.  (This infusion also makes a killer base for ice cream).

9M5czispMOwh5plaEOy3u24bcpI2isEdWBZlky47VRISet aside 2 egg yolks, whisked.  Chop 4 ounces dark chocolate (I use 72% cacoa).  After the 30 minutes steeping, strain the lavender buds from the cream.  Pour the cream back into the small saucepan, adding the chopped chocolate and 2 tablespoons sugar (I use organic evaporated cane sugar).  Heat the mixture and stir constantly until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Remove saucepan from heat and gradually whisk while pouring half the heated cream, sugar, and chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.  Then whisk this tempered mixture into the remainder of the heated cream, sugar, and chocolate mixture, whisking thoroughly.  Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla.

DmQYfk3sTnJHy26uEsoA9cppd3Nny-HlS9s0NZsEqpIPour into either two 4-ounce or four 2-ounce ramekins.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Mixture will thicken as they cool.  Serve garnished with heavy cream whipped with a splash of vanilla and berries of your choice or lavender fronds, if available.

Jg7l3O8ulPDHgOOuknFEZVaeZvYv1eI3dwFrrugTuLATry this super-simple classic French dessert for Valentine’s or anytime.  Unless you despise chocolate!

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Tangerines, Persimmons, & Cherimoyas . . . oh, my!

IMG_1545I’m so, so lucky to live in SoCal (southern California).  We have an abundance of warm weather and sunshine that affords us something yummy growing all year long.  No downtime for winter here!  Yeah, we’re dealing with that nasty drought.  And the 5 or so inches of rain so far this winter haven’t helped, yet.

This drought is why local farmers aren’t using all their acreage for farming.  This farm I went to with my local farm tour group is a pesticide free private farm owned by Nino, an older Italian farmer.  He owns six acres, but can only afford to water and work 1 acre.  But  this acre is packed with fruit trees.  And he speaks with and gets to know each person that comes to his farm to “u-pick” his fruit.

We wandered around the persimmon-tree covered hills, using shears to harvest both fuyu and hachiya (aka Japanese) persimmons.  The Fuyu is short and fat, crisp like an apple or pear, and is eaten when it is firm. You eat the skin, and all you need to remove is the top green leaves and maybe a small center core. Fuyus don’t oxidize, so if you pack them sliced for lunch, they hold up without discoloring.  And, unlike the hachiya, the fuyus are not bitter or tannic if chomped into before ripeness.

The hachiya MUST be soft and squishy to be ripe, almost bursting out of its skin!  If not, you’ll taste bitter, tannic dryness that will make you never want to pick one up again!    But when ripe, the jelly-like goo drips sweet deliciousness.  The hachiya is an elongated orb with a deep hue of jewel-like orange.  Don’t even try to slice this piece of fruit!  Use a spoon to scoop out every last silky bite!

Nino has a large selection of tangerine trees bundled together on a nearby hill.  But I recognized the first tree I came to as a Dancy tangerine, the same variety I grew in my   garden in Murrieta.  These tangerines are deep orange, super sweet with a few seeds, and “zipper-skinned” or easy to peel and segment.  The Dancy makes a perfect snack to include in lunch boxes.  Yes, these went fast!

Nino walked me around his various cherimoya trees (aka custard apple).  I have to admit I had my first cherimoya only a month ago, a taste and purchase at a local farmers market.  And Nino told me he started his cherimoya orchard after tasting, and loving, his first fruit only a few years ago.  This large dusty green & knobby fruit is brought to us from the Andes.  Nino picks the fruit while firm, then suggested I leave the cherimoya on the counter until it “gave” when pressed, similar to the feeling of a ripe avocado.  Nino has several different varieties growing on his farm, and chose 2 different styles for me to take home and try.

Cherimoyas are soft and custardy inside when ripe with large shiny black seeds that are easily removed.   The skins can be eaten, but they’re a little tough and not nearly as delicious as what they contain.  One of the fruits I brought home had more of a banana with lime custard taste.  The other fruit had a pineapple custard taste.  The creamy white/yellow flesh of the cherimoya can be sliced, chunked, or scooped with a spoon.  Its taste also, like papaya, can be enhanced with a squeeze of lime.  As Mark Twain described it:  “the most delicious fruit known to man.”

Yes, I’m so, so lucky!

 

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Foodie Penpals Part Deux

penpalsI had so much fun last June participating in the Lean Green Bean’s foodie penpal program (http://www.theleangreenbean.com/foodie-penpals/) that I was anxious to participate again.  And I am definitely not disappointed!  The Lean Green Bean site belongs to Lindsay, a Registered Dietitian, who blogs about healthy living.

Someone who’s interested (like me!) signs up each month on Lindsay’s website, then Lindsay matches you with another foodie penpal so you can exchange a collection of foodie items, usually that locavore stuff you find at your farmers markets or at your local small food stores.  Each box of food stuffs has to be less than $15, needs to include a note of why you chose those items, and can be sent out USPS flat rate.

My foodie penpal for October is Kerrey who hails from Amish country in central Pennsylvania (I’m in California).  I received this great box of goodies from Kerrey:

IMG_1367The first item I tried was the Orange Pineapple Cherry Marmalade from a local gourmet store, Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouses.  Spread on a piece of whole grain toast, I was delighted to find that the cherry flavor dominated — yum!

Kerrey let me know she’s a former Texan (me, too!), so she had to include a homemade peach salsa — smooth and sweet with a kick of spiciness at the end.  Yeah, I poured that all over my eggs!

The last item is a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, chicken pot pie soup mix, a first for me.  The Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie is served with square-cut noodles and no pastry, unlike the pot pie I familiar with.  From Wikipedia I discovered:

“In the Pennsylvania Dutch region, some people make a dish is called “bot boi” (or “bott boi”) by Deitsch-speaking natives. Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie is a stew and has no pastry.  It is usually made of a combination of chicken, ham, beef, or wild game with square-cut egg noodles, potatoes, and a stock of onion, celery and parsley.”

The Pennsylvania Dutch are a cultural group formed by early German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania and their descendants.  And it appears to me that their food reflects their German heritage with hardy meals to warm and nourish the body.  I can’t wait to try my first chicken potpie soup!  But it’ll have to wait until it cools down below 80 degrees here in California!  Come on, autumn!

Foodie Penpals is such fun!  I hope you’ll try it, too.  Lindsay has foodie penpal lists for both the U.S. and Canada, and she includes this link for the UK and Europe:  http://thisisrocksalt.com/foodie-penpals/.  Lindsay matches you with a new foodie penpal every time you sign up.

So check out the site and join us!  Isn’t it time you had a penpal, too?

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Prescriptions for Dining Out

It’s not often I go out to dinner, or even lunch, during the week.  Just too busy for that sort of thing.  And that’s what weekends are for, what I live for.  And I’m also not a fast-food junkie, EXCEPT for the occasional street taco or breakfast burrito!  Or Kennebec french fries with truffle oil?  Yeah, that’s where my weakness lies!

So though I’m always thinking about my girlish figure during my busy week, when weekends come, all bets are off!  So I really enjoyed the attached article on what to enjoy, or not enjoy, during meals out.  Like one participant in the article stated, “A fine restaurant is not the place for dietary dogma. ‘It is barbaric to go to a restaurant like this and order only things that some dietitian has told you to eat’ ”

I LOVE that!  I also agree with the statement “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.”

So what’s your take on eating out?  Do you order the salad, sans dressing?  Only grilled or steamed fish?  No alcohol?  Or do you reach for the bread AND butter?  The fish with the butter sauce?  The pork belly with some other scrumptious sauce?  AND a bottle of wine?

So take a look at this New York Times article; interestingly, it’s from April 1986.  As for me, I’ll be truly dining!

Prescription for Dining Out: 2 Health Experts Face Menus

 

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France’s 4th of July: Bastille Day

This?Guillotine

Or this?imagesWhat is your image of Bastille Day?  I guess I’ve always gone with the former.  Revolution.  Down with the Monarchy.  Let them eat cake.  Yeah, I know, that was not real.  And the guillotine.  Oh, yes!  The Bastille, which only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, became the symbol of the fight against oppression for all French citizens.  Long gone.

A more accurate picture of Bastille Day, or La Fête Nationale, or Le Quatorze Juillet, involves a big military parade on the Champs-Elysées in the morning.  Oh, and there’s the dance, or ball, in every village in France.  It’s a big social occasion.  A little food.  A little drink (or a lot).  Some music.  A time to get together with neighbors and friends, and to make new friends. Then there’s the fireworks.  OK, kinda’ like our 4th of July.  But without the grilling.

So I’m sure I’m not alone in loving to include a little francophile-ness in my life.  And Bastille Day is a great excuse.  I started with a beautiful breakfast of thinly sliced ham, a little gruyere and a blue cheese (from my recent trip to Switzerland and Italy), a cafe, and some fresh fruit.  Perfect.

Dinner.  So many choices.  I finally went with a ham & gruyere buckwheat crepe, or Galette Complete.  I’ve made regular flour crepes for ages, but this was my first time with buckwheat.  One cup milk, 3 eggs, 1 cup flour (buckwheat, this time), a splash of olive oil, a pinch of salt . . . my basic recipe thrown in a blender (easy to pour).

IMG_1204A little darker.  A little less pliable.  But tasty.

IMG_1206Heat large flat skillet (mine’s almost black from years of use as ONLY a crepe/egg skiller), adding a little olive oil or butter, pour in enough batter to cover bottom of skillet, and swirl to form crepe.  Cook on each side 1-1/2 to 2 minutes.  Collect crepes on a plate.

 

Assemble your ingredients for the Galette Complete (mise en place):  IMG_12081 egg for each serving; 1/4 cup grated gruyere mixed with 1-2 T. grated parmesan for each serving; 2 slices thinly-sliced ham for each serving; 1 crepe for each serving.

 

IMG_1209Warm one side of each crepe for 30 seconds, flip and add half the cheese per serving and warm for 1 minute.

 

 

Layer ham slices over melting cheese, then add remainder of cheese per serving.  Fold in IMG_1214each side of crepe (I used toothpicks to keep folds) to make a rectangle, then place egg in center.  Cover pan with lid and allow egg to cook until white is firm (about 3-5 minutes).

Ok, so mine aren’t too pretty!  But that runny egg with tastes of ham, gruyere, and crepe . . . so good!

Remove toothpicks before serving.  I added a salad of greens, goat cheese, and walnuts, lightly dressed.  I also picked up some cute little shells filled with scallops and a bread topping to accompany our meal.

Don’t forget the wine!  A perfect wine to complement the crepe is Les Portes de Bordeaux, a white Bordeaux and a sauvignon blend — nice and dry.IMG_1219For all you francophiles out there, and to everyone else who enjoys good food and drink, Salut!

 

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http://davidplusworld.com/happy-bastille-day/

http://passportdinnersblog.com/2013/07/15/off-with-their-heads-what-did-you-eat-for-bastille-day/