I have had the images for this post up and ready for words for about a week now. It’s not that I can’t find the words to go along. It’s just that I am ever near long enough the computer to sit down and write.
We had such a great time at the beach with my parents, my brother and his family that diving right back into work mode was a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s been busy around here but having my parents stay with me here in Birmingham for a couple of weeks shifted the rhythm even further.
It’s good. It’s all good. It’s actually awesome to have them around and see the new house, the new job, the new town. They really get a handle on my new situation and all the questions they had are being answered. My photo schedule, the way we do things, the people I work with, the places I like to go to for dinner, a drink or to shop. Things are about as new to them as they are to me and we share discoveries and new finds everyday.
It’s really nice to come home after a long day and start cooking with my mom. Chopping, dicing, searing, etc… while sipping a glass of wine and watching the end of an old movie or listening to the radio. We have more quiet time for serious talks, or to simply catch up on news about the family at large.
It’s been raining lots lately and we have been enjoying a few comforting and hearty meals. The kind to make you feel instantly better and warm inside after being caught by a heavy rain.
Stews, fish soups, long cooked dishes, and roasted veggie soups have permeated the air around for days now, filling me with a bit of nostalgia. The flavors and spices of my grandmother's stews and roasts come into to our conversation almost at every meal. Her cooking while being so intricately French provincial was so influenced by her life in Northern Africa and encounters with other army wives.
It might be for this reason that I have absolutely loved every page turned in the new cookbook by Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, co-authored with Sami Tamimi. I hear my stomach growl at just about every recipe and my eyes pop out from every stunning picture. I find my family’s cooking in so many of the recipes in the book.
I don’t know if we are atypical or just reflect an era (military, moves, oversea travels, wars, etc…) but some of my most vivid food memories are as much of harissa,Berber couscous and papaya with lime juice as they are of cassoulet and Bouillabaisse.
In that regard, the book completely appeals to me. The way Ottolenghi and Tamimi look at culinary traditions and influences. Understanding that one dish may have the same root but different interpretations in neighboring cultures, civilizations or countries. They understood that cooking is honoring ones traditions as well as sharing common flavors, differences in interpretations. Food travels. It is not one to be of only one people and one culture. It is alive. It reflects peoples, generations and history. It is humanity.
I get that. Especially when sitting down at the dinner table around a plate of Pistachio Crusted Lamb and a side or Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad. (recipes after the jump). I get the sharing, the cultural influences, and the roots. The history that brought this plate and the chatter about it, in front of me. I happily grab my fork and ask my mother for one more story about my grandmother. About her own childhood. About mine with her.
Only a few more days and they will be heading back to France. A few more days to revel in the memories and the times we are living in the present. I am grateful for the love and time they give me these few short weeks. It’s been quite nice, indeed…
When we dropped our friend J. at the airport yesterday, it felt a little like dropping off your kid to camp. Mind you the kid has just turned forty years-old but that sparkle in his eye about finally getting some vacation time was precious. I almost ran to an airline counter and bought a ticket home!
We said goodbye, got his keys, promised to water the plants and joked "hey man! who is going to come to the house to help eat the shoot or market food?". But really, I was quite serious. I also need to explain "shoot" and "market" foods…
One wonderful aspect of my job as a food photographer is that whether I have a magazine or a cookbook shoot, 100% of the food I work with is edible and unless a shoot is taking too long and the food is not kept refrigerated properly, we eat what we now call "shoot food" for dinner.
Also, as a food lover who tends to overload at the farmers market, it’s a blessing to have single friends like J. who are just a phone call away and hungry to come share our victuals and a glass of wine when I spend an entire day cooking and baking. We often joke that our table is more often set for four or six than for two.
Over the few years, J. has been the recipient of quite many a phone calls to come and eat my "shoot food". From eight tarts in one single night to three stews and beaucoup caramel cake in a weekend.
What can I say… I like fresh and seasonal food, and I like to feed my friends. J. loves vegetables. He has an adventurous palate. He likes to buy cookbooks and brings them over to the house so we can brainstorm our next "market dinner". While Bill and him go play some music (they are both musicians), I cook and bake to the sound of old time jazz tunes.
Since I always post on Twitter the contents of my basket after the Charleston farmers market on Saturdays, I thought I’d blog about some of the dishes I make from all those goodies and often share with friends. Like J. As we did last week before his long trip overseas.
One thing I love doing when we get home from the market is to fix us breakfast since we usually get up and go to make it there right at opening time. I am not a huge breakfast person except on Saturdays. A bed of arugula, some sauteed bacon and an egg.Over easy, sunny side up, poached…any way works for me. I have taken to sauteed some halved grapes with the bacon lately and the combination of savory and sweet it just outstanding.
We are in full blown tomato and heirloom tomato season and that makes me very very happy. We can’t get enough of them. I literally go nuts with the tomatoes at the market. We like to eat them simply in a salad with some chopped avocado, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sometimes a sprinkle of basil. Sometimes oregano. Sometimes I just make a simple pie crust and fill it with cut up tomatoes, fresh goat cheese, a drizzle of olive oil. It’s messy. It’s fresh. It’s delicious.
I would never have thought I would get Bill to actually ask for turnips or beets for dinner. But he does. Specifically the ones from the market. They are super fresh and sweet and when I roast them with some salt and pepper, he just can’t get enough. I roast a batch in late afternoon and we snack on those while I prepare dinner. Nature’s candy. Seriously.
Our market is a food lover, food photographer’s dream come true. Not only are the vegetables flavorful, fresh and delicious, they also look good. I can’t stop myself from picking up tiny baby squash or amazingly purple round eggplants. And purple onions. And purple basil. It makes for a beautiful gratin just by layering them all together. A good drizzle of cream and thanks to Nigel Slater’s book Tender we had the silkiest of side dish the other night for dinner.
Dinner at our house would not be complete without dessert of course and lately, we have been drowning (my fault) under cases of apricots. One of my favorites. I am picky about my apricots and this year they are amazingly fragrant and tasty. We have enjoyed them sauteed in a bit of raw honey and served along side cookies or tea cakes like the hazelnut financiers pictured here.
I recently discovered pineapple sage and been adding it to plenty of dishes, sweet and savory. It’s mild, smells like pineapple and adds a lovely fragrance to tea cakes. Lemon thyme, lemon verbana lemon balm, pineapple sage…all these mild herbs lend themselves perfectly to sweet treats.
I was particularly happy to curl on the couch Saturday night with a couple of financiers and some of those honey apricots. We had just driven home from my book signing in Charlotte and I was just craving something sweet and tangy.
The trip was a lot of fun and it was awesome to finally hang out with Taylor in his hometown and meet some of the Charlotte food bloggers. Thank you to everyone who came to have a book signed or just say "hello", it was an honor meeting you. Of course, it was nothing like one of The Pioneer Woman's book signing where people line up for hours just to talk to Ree!
She is giving the chance to 3 readers of her blog (and their guest) to come and spend the weekend learning, baking, photographing…and of course laughing and eating! You can enter the giveaway on her blog here! I can’t wait!
The best part? The minute I told Bill about what we were doing he said "I’m coming!" Then he added "let’s do a road trip there!" It’s been ages since we took a road trip together and we just love doing those. Granted I catch up on sleep but we love to discover new towns and new storied. Once I have the itinerary mapped out, I might ask some of you for recommendations of all kinds.
In the meantime, I might just sneak away the last of the Hazelnut Financiers and Honey Apricots. And wait impatiently for dinner and a serving of that Eggplant Gratin…!
Honey Apricots and Pineapple Sage Hazelnut Financiers
For the Honey Apricots:
1 tablespoon butter
6 apricots, halved and pit removed
1/3 cup honey
In a large sautee pan placed over medium high heat, melt the butter until it starts to sizzle, add the apricots, cut side down and sautee for 2 minutes. Flip them over and sautee another 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and place them on a serving plate. Add the honey to the hot pan and swirl it around until hot. Pour over the apricots and serve right away
For the financiers:
1 stick (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (100gr) unsifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup (60gr) ground hazelnuts
1 tablespoon finely chopped pineapple sage
1/4 cup (30gr) rice flour (or same amount in cake flour)
pinch of salt
4 large egg whites
Preheat your oven to 375F and position a rack in the center. Lightly butter the inside of 12 financiers molds or muffin tins and place them on a baking sheet. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan set over medium high heat, melt the butter until it turns to a rich hazelnut brown color. Remove from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. Strain and reserve.
Mix together the powdered sugar, flour, ground hazelnuts, pineapple sage and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the egg whites and mix on low speed until all the ingredients are coming together. Add the brown butter, increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth.
Divide the batter among your molds and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Fresh Market Eggplant Gratin, inspired by Nigel Slater’s Root Vegetable Gratin in Tender:
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 baby round eggplant or one large regular eggplant, sliced
2 small red onions, sliced
1 cup shitake mushrooms, diced (I use a combo of shitake and oyster)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup basil loosely packed basil leaves and chopped
Salt and pepper
1 cup light cream (or 1/2 milk and heavy cream)
Preheat the oven to 350F and position a rack in the middle. In a 9×9 inch gratin dish lightly coated with a bit of olive oil, place some eggplant slices in a single layer. Top with a single layer each of onion slices, diced mushrooms. Sprinkle with some garlic, chopped basil and salt and pepper. Repeat the layering until all the vegetables are used. Pour the cream over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
I like to think I am fairly organized. I mean, there is logic to whatever battle is taking place on my desk. Or in my head. Like most of us, I get pretty psyched about being a step ahead and I was darn happy for having posts in drafts right before I left for BlogHer food in San Francisco. David says he has 40 stories or so in drafts at all times. I giggle when I have one ahead of the game. I am however excited when “the” one is these Bananas Foster Tartelettes. Things got busy then and things got busier this week but these were too good to wait any longer to post.
Whenever I travel, I try to leave a few easy things for B. to reheat for dinner knowing too well he’d end up eating at his parents or be invited here and there. He tends to skip meals when there is no one to call him to the table. I know he can boil water for pasta. I’ve seen it. I even happen to know he can make awesome steamed clams.
This time was no different as I labeled containers of food and even took him on a guided tour of the fridge and pantry. It’s just not his thing. I was tempted to post-it the entire house but refrained. However, as previously mentioned, his eyes got stuck on all the desserts left on top shelf from my zealous attempt at getting prepared. This is his thing.
After describing what the tarts were made of, he exclaimed “oh! Kind of like bananas foster without the fire flambéing action!” Precisely. We tend to have a surplus of bananas in the house, and after making banana donuts last month, I still had plenty to use up, hence the tarts (and a few loaves of banana nut bread).
The tarts start with a crispy shortbread base and are filled with a hazelnut and almond frangipane before being topped with fresh banana slices and a (generous) drizzle of salted butter caramel sauce. I am all over banana and nuts and I am all over salted butter anything, so the combination was pretty much a no brainer. However, it all came together out of the necessity to use all the tidbits ingredients in the fridge, pantry and freezer.
I had leftover shortbread dough in the freezer from a previous tart making day as well as a jar of salted butter caramel sauce, a handful each almonds and hazelnuts in the pantry, a knob of butter and a tiny bit of cream in the fridge. And of course a good many banana giving me the sweet eye.
As I have said before, I hate waste. Having worked in a restaurant kitchen for many year, I pretty much nailed down the recycling issue. If you don’t recycle, re-use or force yourself to use items bought on a whim, you are likely to drive your place to the pits. I have the same mentality when it comes to the kitchen. Being on a tight budget, I can’t allow us to waste, even less impulse buy certain items. Everything these days is budgeted, accounted for and used to the max. More than ever before I am aware of what I have. Time, the ability to cook, develop recipes, a wonderful mother- in -law who unexpectedly drops by with supplies, etc…
Some of us are not that lucky. I do my best but some can’t. In that spirit, I really like what Macy is doing in their campaign Come Together to fight hunger to raise awareness and money to feed 10 million of people suffering from hunger, and they will match donation dollar for dollar.
When Macy’s got in touch to spread the word last week, I immediately agreed. There are 3 different ways you can get involved in this great campaign:
1) You can host dinner parties and ask that instead of bringing traditional host gifts, guests make a donation to Feeding America.
2) You can donate $1 directly at any Macy’s register, one dollar provides dinner for seven.
3) You can shop at any Macy’s and get special savings in-store on October 17 (today). A portion of the $5 in-store ticket sales will benefit Feeding America.
Macy’s also provided me with two $25 gift certificates to give to my readers. All you have to do is leave a comment (multiple entry will automatically be deleted) before Tuesday october 20th midnight eastern time, for a chance to win. My better half will select the winners at random from the comments left on this post. Even if Macy’s does not ship internationally nor has stores outside the US, everyone can enter. You can always use the gift certificate to do your Christmas shopping for friends or family here and continue to spread some good spirit.
Good luck! Bananas Foster Tartelettes:
Sable Dough: 1 stick (113 gr) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (95 gr) powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 large egg
1 1 /2 cups (190gr) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (20 gr) cornstarch
pinch of salt
For the almond-hazelnut frangipane filling: 1 stick (115 gr) butter, softened
½ cup (100 gr) granulated sugar
½ cup (50 gr) ground almonds
½ cup (50gr) ground hazelnuts
seeds from half a vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
1/4 cup (60gr) heavy cream
Prepare the shortbread rounds:
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy on medium speed, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the flour, cornstarch and salt and mix briefly to incorporate. Dump the whole mixture onto a lightly floured board and gather the dough into a smooth ball. Do not work the dough while in the mixer or it will toughen up. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
You will need half the amount of dough to make the tartelettes. The other half can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen, well wrapped for up to 3 months.
Preheat the oven to 350F and position a rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out on a lightly floured board or in between sheets of plastic wrap to about ¼ -inch thick. Cut out eight 3-inch rounds with a pastry ring or cookie cutter. Place them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cool.
Prepare the filling: Place the butter, sugar, ground nuts, vanilla bean seeds and the eggs in a large bowl and whisk until smooth (can also be done in a food processor). Add the cream but stir in it instead of whisking to prevent emulsifying it or it will rise while baking. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place 8 baked rounds of dough in 8 pastry rings of the same dimension, divide the cream evenly among the rings and bake 20 minutes at 350F. Let cool. Once cooled, remove the tarts from the rings and arrange the banana slices decoratively on top, drizzle the caramel sauce on top. Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.
We all procrastinate at one point or another, and we all have different ways to go about that. B. for example will spend an hour doing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen (which I will mess up in 2 seconds flat) before grading papers. The other day he suggested we put down the Christmas tree and decorations. Like a kid who does not want to go back to school, it makes me sad to take the decorations down and to realize it will be "one whole year" before Christmas. As soon as his back was turned I started cleaning and reorganizing the pantry instead. It needed it after the holidays when a bunch of things started to get shoved in there due to lack of time, focus and general "I’ll deal with it after the holidays"…so you see I was actually working my end of the deal.
In that little pantry winter cleaning, I reorganized the nuts and spices and set a bunch aside feeling inspired by some hazelnuts, cardamom, nutmeg, star anise, cloves…the scent was intoxicating. The perfect post holiday antidote: more seasonal winter spices. I made a pomander with some of the cloves, mixed some cardamon with Meyer lemon zest and sugar and that’s when it hit me… hard… I just wanted to eat it… the bowl… of spiced lemon sugar.
So I procrastinated some more and made some sable breton dough with lemon zest in it and baked large cookie to use as bases for tartelettes. I shelled enough hazelnuts to make a variation on my beloved’s beloved pecan tart, with honey and cloves. I still had other spices dancing in my head and in front of my nose that I made a quick spiced creme fraiche frozen parfait to top the tarts with. Let’s face it, pies, tarts, tartelettes, are good..even "naked" but a little ice cream does not really hurt either.
After lunch, B. started again with his desire to put away the decorations, push the furniture back where it was before we moved everything for Christmas dinner. My philosophy is furniture belongs where it feels good, where you are comfortable…and right then, right there in a quiet afternoon with a bright sunbeam coming through the window…it felt good. So I got up. And I went to the kitchen. Again. I put some sugar and water in a pan and I make caramel, and I played with sugar, making caramel twirls to decorate the tarts with, procrastinating a little longer. I made four tarts and we have been sharing one every night for dessert, so yes…"we" have been staring at the Christmas decorations for four days…Bliss…I could not make up my mind for the pictures I like best, so you get them all…oops!
Hazelnut Tartelettes With Spice Creme Fraiche Parfait:
1/2 stick (65 gr) butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (25gr) sugar
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest (or regular lemon)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
3/4 cup (105gr) all purpose flour
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350F. In a mixer, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour and salt and mix briefly to incorporate. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured board and gather the dough into a smooth ball. Do not work the dough while in the mixer or it will toughen up. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out to 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured board or in between the sheets of plastic. You will have extra dough that you can save for another use in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen, well wrapped for up to 3 months.
Cut out four 4-inch disks into the dough and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.
Hazelnut Tartelettes Recipe:
1/2 cup (110gr)dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (85gr) honey
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon (15gr) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (86gr) chopped hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 275F.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, dark brown sugar and honey until fully combined. Add the salt and butter and fold in the nuts with a spatula.
Grease four 3 inch tartlet shells and fill with the batter. Or, place four 3 inch tart rings on a parchment paper line baking sheet (I wrap the rings with foil to make sure the batter does not sneak out) and divide the batter evenly among them.
Bake for 30 minutes or until set and firm. Let cool. Run a knife along the edges of the tartlet shells and unmold carefully. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Spiced Creme Fraiche Parfait:
1/8 grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground green cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground star anise
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons (75gr) sugar, divided
3/4 cup (175gr) creme fraiche (or sour cream)
1/4 cup (60gr) heavy cream
In a stand mixer or handheld mixer, combine the spices, egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of the sugar and whisk until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they have firm peaks, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, one at a time, until the egg whites are glossy. With a spatula, hold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, working carefully not to deflate the batter. Wipe the bowl where the whites were with a paper towel and whip the creme fraiche and heavy cream together until thick, about 2 minutes. Fold this into the egg batter.
Line a 8×11 inch baking pan with plastic wrap and pour in the parfait batter. Smooth the top with a spatula. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
To serve the tartelettes: place a nut tart on the cookie base and top with the spiced creme fraiche parfait. Serve at once.