Cranberries, meet Apples

Ah beautiful cranberries,  ruby red jewels of the holiday season…

Courtesy Oregon Cranberry Growers Assn.

It’s too bad that cranberries tend to receive little more than a cursory nod when cast in their limited role as a wobbly sauce —several circles down from the holiday turkey.  If real lucky, they might be hung out to dry on a string draped around the Christmas tree.

I decided to give cranberries a chance, this time as a co-star with another seasonal favorite, the Honeycrisp apple (or any other sweet-crisp variety).  Anyone who has played with cranberries knows they can be quirky.  They are hard, tart, and when cooked have their own thickening power.  On the other hand, Honeycrisp apples are full of flavor, crisp, bright and juicy—they could go a long way to elevating cranberries beyond their obscure part as a bit player.

This beautiful Crostata if very similar to the Stone Fruit Galette in my Counter Cuisine cookbook.  If you have taken a look, you know that it is a hand formed pie mounded with fresh fruit. It also bakes in about 30 minutes.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

The trick here is to cook the apples and cranberries just long enough to soften them but still retain their shape and unique attributes.

Apples and near popping Cranberries

The best way to pull this off is to briefly cook the filling ahead. The hand formed pastry can be prepped ahead, too. Then, it’s a simple matter of assembling it all and baking the crostata off until bubbly and golden brown.

A little pastry with your fruit

The result: a crisp pastry bundle wrapped around a tender-fresh filling near bursting with holiday flavors.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

Ingredients
1 recipe Hand Formed Pastry (below)
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 Honeycrisp or other apples, peel, core, cut into ½” slice or chunks, @ 3 cups
1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 orange:  1 Tbsp juice, 2 tsp zest
1 Tbsp flour
¾ to 1 cup raw cranberries
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Glaze: 1 Tbsp melted and strained marmalade (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare pastry and chill at least 30 minutes, up to 2 days.
  2. For filling, heat butter in wide pan over medium. Toss in apples to coat, add the spices and sugars to melt. Add the orange zest and juice, cook 1 minute.
    Remove from heat, sprinkle flour over the fruit and gently stir to combine all. Return to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cranberries, lower heat and cook 2-3 minutes, until thick and fruit just begins to soften. Remove and cool well, 1- 2 hours. Filling can be chilled and brought to room temperature before proceeding.
  3. To assemble, roll out pastry on floured parchment into 12” free formed round. Set pastry and parchment on baking sheet.
    Mound prepared filling onto pastry with slotted spoon, higher in center. Allow 2” border to fold over fruit and contain it. Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
  4. Bake 375-400°F for 25-35 minutes, until filling is bubbly and pastry is golden brown. If desired, brush fruit top lightly with marmalade glaze for extra shine. Cool well. Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 4 to 6
Hand-Formed Pastry

3  Tbsp each butter and vegetable shortening spread ½” thick, freeze 15 mins
1 cup AP flour
½ tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Whisk flour and salt in med bowl. Dice the cold shortening and butter into ½ cubes and cut into flour with 2 knives or a pastry blender, until pieces are the size of small peas.
Add 3 Tbsp ice water and stir with a fork until the flour is moist and begins to hold together. Add a few more drops of ice water into bottom of bowl if needed. Gather up dough and gently shape into a ball and flatten into a disk. Roll out as needed or wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill up to 2 days.

Manageable Muffins

I’m in food management mode.  My fridge has stopped working and while waiting for parts and repair I’m keeping it simple by relying on the most stable foods and meals.

My tiny backup cooler/fridge takes limited perishables like milk, eggs, cheese, and perhaps a ready made meal or two. So, there’s nothing like a good challenge to get the creative juices flowing.

Applesauce Muffins

For some reason I had several kid-sized servings of applesauce in the pantry. Turns out, 2 of these cups are just enough to make a small batch of  6 delicious applesauce muffins.

These fall-flavored muffins should hold at least 3 days without refrigeration, just long enough to safely polish them all off. Thus far, they have been a welcome touch for breakfast, snacks… even dessert.

The muffins are inspired by a larger recipe at Mel’s Kitchen Café. They cleverly begin by giving rolled oats a quick softening soak with other wet ingredients. Rather than melted butter, I used shelf-ready coconut oil for a light floral background note.

The wet mixture is then dumped into the dry ingredients. The flours can be your choice: gluten-free, whole grained, etc.  I used partial all-purpose for max leavening power, plus a touch of recent favorite, buckwheat flour.  Additions such as dried cranberries or raisins are also combined with the dry ingredients.

Safe and Sane Muffin

The batter is quickly blended and portioned into a 6-cup lined muffin tin (a large ⅓ cup scoop works beautifully) and bake approximately 18 minutes. To avoid tough or dry muffins, the big caution is to not overmix or overbake.

Mine were/are moist, with just enough texture from the oats and dried cranberries for plenty of flavor, fiber, and food value.

Small Batch Applesauce Muffins

Modified from Mel’s Kitchen Café

Ingredients
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter, melted
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup AP flour
2 Tbsp whole wheat or buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with liners or grease the muffin cups. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the oatmeal, applesauce, egg, vanilla, coconut oil and sugar and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, cranberries or raisins if using. Make a well in the center and pour in the applesauce mixture. Stir until just combined; don’t overmix or the muffins will be dense and dry.
  4. Using a large scoop, distribute the batter evenly among the 6 muffin cups. Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely. Yield: 6 muffins

Quintessentially laid back

I can’t believe I haven’t yet posted on Key Lime Pie, a favorite of many, including me. Once you’ve had a taste of its tart-sweetness, just thinking about this luscious pie makes your mouth water.

Key Lime Pie

This is a recipe that comes from my cheffing days based out of Florida—where  small, flavorful Key limes are readily available. If not, no worries, just substitute bottled Key lime juice or regular limes. It really doesn’t matter—it’s always good.  For a tropical climate with a laid back attitude, this legendary pie is one that everyone can wrap their minds around.

It’s a curious pie that hasn’t changed much in decades. One of its quirks comes from the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk. The knowledge that acid combined with evaporated milk could yield a thick filling was a boon to those living on the water or in remote locales. No need to fret over fresh milk or cream, and the addition of sugar in the canned milk made it even easier.

Chilled Out 

Still, there are many versions of Key lime pie.  I like to lighten the filling just a bit with a couple of  beaten egg whites.  An optional sour cream topping can introduce an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of the pie.  Also included, a graham cracker crust alternative that bakes for only three minutes in the microwave.

Most Key lime pie lovers would agree that it is perfectly good morning, noon, or night—anywhere there’s a cool breeze and a little shade.  At times, I’ve been known to get further carried away by making candied lime slices ahead for garnish points. But that’s another story.

Key Lime Pie

Ingredients
1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust, baked (below)
Filling
1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is good)
¼ cup Key lime juice (6 small), bottled Key lime juice, or fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated lime zest
2 eggs, separated
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Optional:  Topping: 1 cup sour cream, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla; lime slices

Instructions

  1. Ahead bake the crust. Pre-heat oven to 325-350°F.
  2. For the filling, whisk condensed milk, lime juice and rind in a bowl to blend. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and thick.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the whites until soft peaks form, sprinkle on sugar and continue until stiff. Gently fold into lime mixture.
  4. Pile filling into the pre-baked shell and bake 15 minutes to set; remove to rack to cool while making the topping. If not using, bake a total of 30 minutes.
  5. For topping, gently combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla and spread over the warm pie. Bake the pie with topping an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Cool and chill well. Slice into wedges and serve with a lime slice. Yield: 8 slices.

Graham Cracker Crust
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 graham crackers)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
⅓ cup melted butter

  1. Spray a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  2.  For the crust, combine ingredients and pat into pie plate; chill for 15 minutes.
  3.  Bake the crust in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes, or in 375°F oven 6-8 minutes, until firm and crisp. Set aside to cool.

Singin’ the Blues

When you’ve got fresh blueberries the world looks brighter.

Fresh Blueberries

Here in the beautiful state of Oregon, I’m reminded of that fact—while across the state we are under siege from uncontained fires and COVID-19.

I can handle this.  I am reminded I’ve survived the heat and turmoil of multiple hurricanes and their aftermath. Yet, after a week of approaching hellish fires capable of creating their own weather systems, we haven’t reached an end point. Thick, oppressive smog and particulates weaken our lungs—further exacerbating those threatened by the lurking COVID virus among us.

At this minute I am safe, and so I cook. I bake, use what I have on hand, and I keep it very simple.  Lucky for me it’s blueberry season and in my cupboard I find cornmeal.  A heavenly pair.

Food nourishes the spirit, the soul, and the body—and I become grateful as I cook. I give the gritty cornmeal a blast in the blender to eliminate any potential coarseness. It delivers a sweet earthy scent, a fine texture with a slight crunch.

I take my time, hand whisk the batter and meditate.  It develops a gentle lightness, just enough to  support the blueberries and allow them to float freely within. I love nutmeg with blueberries so I add a pinch for good luck. We need it.

Shareable Blueberry Cookies

I am rewarded with glorious, golden packages alive with juicy bites of blue goodness— shareable with neighbors.

Blueberry Cornmeal bite

I am restored.  Life is beautiful… even in this bleak cloud.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cookies

Ingredients
4 Tbsp butter
⅔ cup granulated sugar, or half brown sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp plain yogurt
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour
⅔ cup fine cornmeal or polenta
½ tsp each baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
⅔ cup fresh blueberries

Instructions

  1. Combine the flour through salt on wax paper and set it aside.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the butter and shortening until light and cream in the sugars. Beat in the egg, then the yogurt, and vanilla.
    Fold in the blueberries, it will be thick.
  3. Drop rounded tablespoons of batter onto parchment line baking sheet 2” apart. Bake 11-15 minutes, until raised, golden and set on top; don’t overbake. Let rest 2 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool.
  4. Can be sprinkled with turbinado sugar before baking or dusted with confectioners’ sugar after. Store covered. Yield: 18-20 cookies.

Tomato Sauce, Keto-style

When my daughter Shannon recently sent her favorite recipe for Five Minute Keto Pizza I was off and running.  She has long been a keto fan, and a terrific source of the latest information.

Ketogenics is not new; it was developed nearly 100 years ago at the Mayo Clinic as a treatment for epilepsy.  It has gained a huge following by those interested in weight loss or other heath issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, and more. The keto diet focuses on the restriction of carb-rich foods, forcing the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates, resulting in a metabolic state of ketosis.

Turns out the pizza crust is made with eggs for protein, psyllium husk for fiber, and Parmesan cheese. The blended mixture thickens to form a bread-like base when cooked in an oil lined skillet for a couple of minutes.  Rao’s Tomato Sauce and mozzarella cheese are spread on and quickly broiled. Its fast!

No doubt this is a good recipe for those seriously interested in adhering to the keto program as ingredients and quantities are set out to meet specific criteria. On the hunt for psyllium husk, I found a small vaguely marked bag in the back of a cupboard.  I wasn’t sure if it was a powder form or whole, and this matters when it comes to the gut and intestinal processes.  I set it aside for later.

I turned my attention to the sauce;  as a recipe developer this looked like a good challenge.  Unlike other fruit, tomatoes are considered keto-friendly, thanks to their low sugar net carb status. Who knows what Rao had in mind, but I could surely make a homemade tomato sauce that stays within keto boundaries—and acceptable to me.

I zeroed in on Bagna Cauda, the incredible “hot bath” from Italy’s Piedmont region traditionally made with copious amounts of olive oil plus butter. It’s simmered with loads of garlic and anchovies and served as a hot dip, fondue-style. I would begin there. For a win/win, I’d cut back on the oil and butter and substitute a heritage tomato such as a San Marzano or Oregon Spring.

There are so few ingredients in this sauce, each one is important.  It needs a fruity, full flavored extra virgin olive oil, at least 1 clove garlic per serving, and red pepper flakes for a hit of heat. The anchovies give a mysterious umami boost, any fishiness fades to the background, and it’s not too salty.  The tomatoes should be thin-skinned, meaty, low in acid, with few seeds. If using a canned San Marzano, look for one with no sugar added.

Simple Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

As the bagna cauda base and tomatoes simmer away, they break down together and develop into a richly rounded sauce. Serve with chicken, fish, pasta, or pizza.

Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

Ingredients
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, mash and mince
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
8 anchovy fillets, dice
4-6 large heirloom tomatoes such as San Marzano, chop
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp fresh basil, torn

Instructions

  1. Heat a wide pot over medium-low, cook olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and anchovies. Slowly cook; mashing the anchovies until melted, smooth, and aromatic, 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, partially cover set to a low simmer an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in fresh basil. Makes 2 cups or more.

 

Five Minute Keto Pizza

Source: Ruled.me
Ingredients
2 large Eggs
2 tbsp. Parmesan Cheese
1 tbsp. Psyllium Husk Powder
1/2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
Salt to Taste
2 tsp. Frying Oil (I use bacon fat)
1.5 oz. Mozzarella Cheese
3 tbsp. Rao’s Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp. Freshly Chopped Basil

Directions

  1. In a bowl or container, use an immersion blender to mix together all pizza crust ingredients.
  2. Heat frying oil in a pan until hot, then spoon the mixture into the pan. Spread out into a cirlce.
  3. Once edges are browned, flip and cook for 30-60 seconds on the other side. Turn the stove off, and turn the broiler on.
  4. Add tomato sauce and cheese, then broil for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

If forks could talk

This morning I pulled my kitchen apart looking for a fork, a small insignificant fork of little value to anyone but me. I hadn’t thought about it for a while, and suddenly I needed to see it and feel it in my hands.

Oneida Enchantment

When I was in high school I collected an entire set of Oneida silverware with Betty Crocker coupons clipped from box tops and packages of General Mills products. I even saved appetizer forks and iced tea spoons. When I married, I considered this part of my dowry. We used the flatware regularly; it presided over family dinners and celebrations and even spent time in the picnic basket.

Most of the pieces have found new homes or gotten lost, but two appetizer forks remain. When I traveled with a chef’s bag, the forks always came along for backup service touches. They have had quite a life and contributed greatly to food outcomes. In my opinion, they make everything taste better, from shrimp cocktail to olives… and fresh fruit cups.

Fork with Fruit

I’ve been making lots of mixed fruit bowls lately. I like having a combination of fruit cut up, stashed in the fridge, and ready to eat. Once prepared, it’s on standby to go with morning cereal, for a mid-day snack, or in the evening as a refreshing dessert.

The secret to a good fruit bowl is fresh citrus; it seeps into the flesh of fruit pieces and brings them alive. Not only does it provide a bright punch of flavor, it adds moisture and helps keep fragile fruit from browning.

Mixed Fruit

For a well balanced mixture, use a variety of colors, flavors and textures. If more sweetness is required, add a handful of dried fruit such as figs, apricots, dates, or even crystallized ginger. When softened, they blend with the fruit liquid into a beautifully infused syrup.

Mixed Fruit Bowl

Ingredients
citrus: 1 orange or small grapefruit
1 apple and or pear
1 nectarine or other stone fruit
1 cup blueberries or other berries, sliced if large
½ cup dried fruit, figs, dates, apricots, prunes, crystallized ginger

Instructions

  1. Cut citrus into bite sized pieces, include any accumulated juices.
  2. Cut up remaining fruit, leaving skin on if not tough, trim away any core and seeds.
  3. Toss all and blend for at least 20 minutes. Will hold 2-3 days. Serve 3-4.

Delicious but not Devastating

Incorporating vegetables into desserts is an appealing way to slip more valuable nutrients into our daily food intake. Carrot and zucchini cakes are solutions, likely loaded with exorbitant amounts of oil and smeared with heavy-duty cream cheese toppings. Any natural benefits have been all but cancelled out.

Delicious but not devastating, that’s my goal. Trying to elevate the plight of vegetable desserts, here’s my latest take on zucchini cake. First, I’ve learned that steaming, rather than conventional baking, can introduce moisture and lower the need for massive doses of oil.

I zeroed in on two other ingredients of interest: chocolate and nuts.  I like the chocolate and zucchini combination—but chocolate easily overwhelms, and I’m not looking for another chocolate cake (probably one of few to so admit). Nuts add deep taste, complexity, and crunch. Then, it made perfect sense: why not keep it simple and go with cacao nibs?  They have all that, and more.

Roasted Cacao Nibs

There is a difference between regular chocolate and nibs. Typical chocolate bars come from cacao seeds, which are fermented, ground, and further processed. Cacao nibs are crumbled pieces from the exterior cacao bean shell, with a bitter chocolate punch and nutty texture. Nibs are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, minerals, and more; they contribute plenty of fiber—but nothing extreme as gnawing on wood.

I’ve included another duo that works well together: coriander and orange. Instead of the usual grated zest, I’ve gone with tiny nibs of minced orange peel (white removed) for a super-charged citrus flavor that’s offset by the exotic perfume of coriander. The backdrop for all of this comes from a huge surplus of green summer squash, rather than zucchini.

Zucchini Cake with Cacao & Orange Nibs

The cake steams in 35 minutes—literally from the inside out—it cooks thoroughly, thanks to the center hole in the bundt pan. You would never guess it had been steamed; once turned out of the pan and cooled, it appears browned and perfectly baked. The cake’s surprisingly light texture is speckled with flavorful flecks from the orange, green squash, and chocolate brown cacao nibs. It’s quite a party!


Update! The pressurized steaming process also softens the cacao nibs. As the cake rests, the nibs seem to bloom (stored in the fridge). Their nubby texture relaxes, and more complex chocolate qualities unfold.  Fascinating… and highly delicious.


Steamed Zucchini Cake with Cacao and Orange Nibs

Ingredients
1½ cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp each baking soda and salt
1 tsp coriander
2 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup each granulated sugar and brown sugar
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups grated zucchini or summer squash, skin on
2 tsp orange peel, white removed, sliver and chop well
⅓ cup roasted cacao nibs

Instructions

  1. Thinly coat 8” bundt pan with Baker’s or nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare Instant Pot or other multicooker: fill with 1½ cup water and insert trivet. Cut aluminum foil cover for pan and prepare sling for pan.
  3. Combine flour through spices together and set aside.
  4. In mixing bowl whisk eggs, then beat in the oil. Whisk in the sugar to fully combine, and then stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the zucchini.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate and finally add the cacao and orange nibs. Scrape batter into the bundt pan and level the surface.
  5. Begin heating multicooker, set to Sauté More. Add 1 ½ cup water and place the trivet in pot.
  6. Cover filled bundt pan with foil. Fold the other length of foil into a long sling. Wrap it under the pan, up the sides, over the top, and lower it into the pot.
  7. Seal pot with lid, reset to Hi Pressure for 35 minutes. When complete, turn off unit, disconnect and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Slowly release remaining pressure and open the lid. Using the foil sling, carefully lift pan out of pot and onto a rack. Remove foil and cool for 10 minutes. With thin knife, loosen any edges adhering to pan and turn cake out to cool onto rack.  Makes 1 cake, serves 10.

Sweet Dreams

We all have our favorite places and cultures to visit. Mine has long been the northeastern corner of Spain, the mysterious Basque country and the Pyrenees Alps. It’s got the total package, a rugged coastline and breathtaking mountains, plus resourceful, resilient people with a world class cuisine.

Basque food has the unique ability to reach into the heart and linger there, and such is the case with the notorious Basque Gateau.  Popular versions of it crop up across the border in the Pays Basque region of France and down into the southern reaches of Spain.  It’s a simple pastry marked by crosshatches across the top and filled with either cherry jam or pastry cream. So, what’s the big deal?

People praise the cake’s holding powers and reverently speak of it as the item to take when traveling or visiting friends.  Admittedly, I’ve had my own visions of romantic adventures complete with this charming cake—safe in the knowledge it would sustain in any conditions.

I’ve considered making a Basque Custard Cake but have been put off by the complicated process and rich pastry. However, there is one recipe I have held onto for quite a while. It’s an interesting take from the French perspective by accomplished chef Michel Richard.  In my notes, he describes it endearingly as a “pastry cream encased in two cookie crusts; aka a weekend cake in France because it holds so well.”  Sweet.

The more I’ve studied Richard’s approach, the more I like it. For example, pastry cream often uses egg yolks with cornstarch for thickener because cornstarch does not not lump when added to hot liquid; however, it can break down with prolonged cooking.  Richard’s version opts for flour instead, which makes sense since this pastry cream cooks twice.  His should hold up very well and continue to maintain mass at room temperature or cold.

I’m impressed with Richard’s brilliant crust solution, too. Rather than a labor intense, buttery pastry, he elects to use the whites left from the custard.  He cleverly incorporates them into a light, resilient cookie/cake-like base. The first thin layer is baked just to set, the filling is added, remaining dough is spread on top and it is given a final bake.  Simple enough.

Basque Gateau

I decided to give it a try.  Here are a couple of notes:  I further simplified Richard’s custard by using double the vanilla extract, rather than soaking a vanilla bean (which I was missing) for an hour in hot milk.  It also makes twice as much as needed, but that’s fine; it came in handy.  I also dabbed a small amount of cherry jam on the baked bottom crust before the pastry cream. It appears that cookie/cake dough is quite scant.  However, it blends beautifully with the pastry cream and works out fine.

Basque Custard Cookie Cake

So, there you have it.  I will definitely make this Basque Custard Cake again. (Actually, I did make it again. It was easier the second time with remaining custard and refined method. I kept my fingers off of it and it was just as good the next day!)  The cherry and custard combo gives it real character, but you could use either.

I dare you to eat just one piece—evidently, I practically polished an entire cake by myself!

Basque Custard Cookie Cake

Inspired by Michel Richard, Baking from the Heart

Ingredients
Pastry Cream
2 cups milk
pinch salt
½ cup sugar,  divided
2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
4 large egg yolks, room temp
⅓ cup flour
1 Tbsp butter
Cookie Dough
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 large egg whites, room temp
½ cup AP flour, plus 1 Tbsp
½ cup cherry jam, optional

Instructions

1. Make Pastry Cream
In 4 cup microwaveable measure, heat milk in microwave with salt, and ¼ cup sugar for 2-3 minutes to dissolve sugar, add vanilla extract.
In small mixing bowl, beat yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar until thick and pale yellow, 2-3 minutes.  Mix in flour.  Gradually pour in the hot milk and whisk to incorporate.
Pour the mixture into a small pan, set over medium heat and continue whisking as it thickens to avoid lumps and curdling.  Reduce to medium low and cook 2-3 minutes, whisking to keep smooth and not curdle. Off heat stir in butter and remaining vanilla. Scrape into a bowl and cover top with film. Chill 2-3 hours until cold, up to 1 day ahead.  You should have enough for 2 cakes.

2. Make Dough
Preheat oven to 350-375°F. Thoroughly butter and flour 9″ tart or springform pan.
In mixing bowl beat butter, add sugar in 3-4 batches, beating well after each addition until light. Beat in egg whites one at a time, incorporating after each. Stir in flour to just combine and form a soft batter.

3. To Bake
Spoon enough batter to thinly cover bottom of pan, about ½ cup spread ⅛” thick.  Bake 10-12 minutes, until dough is firm to touch, and edges turn golden brown.
If using preserves, randomly dot spoonfuls onto crust spreading away from edges. Top with cold pastry cream, leaving ½” border at edge.
Carefully spoon remaining dough evenly over all, spreading to cover cream and fill in border edge.  Bake 25-35 minutes, rotating pan until golden brown.  Cool completely on wire rack.  Release cake from pan and slice into wedges.  For best flavor, allow to come to room temperature for 1 hour prior to serving.  Cover and chill for storage.   Serves 6-8

Sandy beaches are nice…

As much as I love winter soups and stews, this week I reached my limit.

It wasn’t all that evident until I dashed out of the rain and into the market for a few staples, wrapped in a fleece jacket and wool scarf. Straight ahead in the produce section, I came to a screeching stop in front of a large display of fresh mangoes.

I was not prepared for this.

My imagination immediately transformed this sight into a sandy beach lined with palm trees. I felt a warm tropical breeze envelope me… and there was a colorful bowl of fresh mango salsa.

mango salsa

No, this was not hot flashes…

Before I knew it, my cart not only held mangoes, there were limes, peppers, onions and cilantro. Down the aisle at the meat counter, they were featuring pork tenderloins. I’ll have that, thank you. Into the cart it went. This would need a quick and easy marinade; I’d go with a basic sesame-soy blend. Whatever else I needed, was immaterial. I was done.

Back at home, the pork was marinating in no time. I dusted off my old tropical salsa recipe and quickly pulled it together. Although mango is my favorite, I’ve made this with all sorts of fruit, including papaya and peach. Fresh pineapple is a good addition if the fruit is not real ripe.

This refreshing salsa goes with just about anything (I was even considering cereal at one point), from grilled fish to pork or chicken—and any sort of fried food.

The marinade is one I had been working on for Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, so that will likely still happen. It has a bit of sweetness to help with the caramelization process. I dropped the marinated pork into a hot pan for a quick sear and finished it in a medium hot oven.

The tenderloin barely made it out of the oven before I was wolfing it down with the lovely mango salsa. Ah yes, I was back on that sandy beach with tropical breezes wafting through the palm trees. So nice…

Tropical Salsa

Ingredients
2 large ripe mangoes, peel 1/2″ dice
½ red pepper, seed and dice
½ jalapeno, seed and dice
¼ cup green onions, chop
¼ cup red onion, dice
juice of ½ lime
2 Tbsp cilantro or 1/2 tsp thyme, mince
pinch salt and sugar, to taste

Instructions
Combine all and chill 2 hours or up to a day ahead. Adjust to taste with lime juice or sugar. Makes about 2 cups

The Unplanned Blog

As I sit here on the cusp of a new decade, I’m staring at a blank screen reflecting on the past 10 years.  This blog was in its infancy 10 years ago, a mere experiment.  I considered it more of a journal where it could record my adventures in food and tinker with an alternate form of writing.

Early on, my goal was to post 4 blogs a month… and for the most part I’ve stayed true to that.  There have been times when I could not see the point and had nothing to say, but somehow I found something to write.  It regularly amazes me that we are still at it, 10 years later!

Isn’t that the whole point, though? Oftentimes we don’t have a real plan, we just begin. Then, something drives us; we keep going, and life unfolds in beautiful ways. Culinary Distractions, the unplanned blog, has allowed me the joy of casting my discoveries and words out into the world and releasing them.

I’ve been happy not monetizing and for the most part, remaining add-free. However, in the coming year I suspect there will be positive happenings and changes worth including here.

To all who visit this silly space, thank you for stopping. Thank you for your support and kind words.  They are never expected and pure frosting on the cake!

Here’s a sweet thank you and big New Year wishes.

Grape Clafoutis

Clafoutis is a favorite on this blog and the goofy grape idea has been rattling in my head for some time—it’s fun and really does work!

What a perfect time to share…  Happy New Year!

Grape Clafoutis  

Ingredients
butter for baking dish
3 cups seedless grapes, such as Scarlotta grapes
⅔ cup milk, warm
1 Tbsp butter
3 large eggs, room temperature
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp almond extract
½ tsp lemon zest
¼ cup almonds, slivers
1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Butter an oven proof shallow 9″ casserole dish, quiche dish, or pie plate.
  2. Warm the milk and the butter together. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until frothy, sprinkle in flour, nutmeg, extract, zest, and whisk until smooth. Gradually add warm milk mixture, whisking until well combined. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350-375°F. Distribute the fruit evenly in the baking dish.  Pour the batter over the fruit. Scatter almonds on top and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until puffed and brown. Rotate dish as needed to brown evenly.
  4. Serve warm or room temperature. If desired dust with confectioners’ sugar; or add a spoonful of ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  Cover and chill for storage.  Serves 6