Friday, October 9, 2015

Candied Rose Petals

It may surprise those who have never had the pleasure of visiting a Middle Eastern country to find out that roses are ever-present in beautifully manicured gardens with signature reflection pools and water fountains. The Middle East is not the dry, desolate desert they will have you believe. Dreamlike memories fill my mind with visions of a lush field of wildflowers playing audience to the porch that ran the length of my aunt's country villa near a rocky river in the mountains. The porch held a very important role in the family's social structure. It was where guests were received and treated to freshly brewed tea poured from the samovar that stood at attention, ready to serve. In the hot summer months, it was customary to sleep under the stars, in a modest bed laid over ornate Persian rugs. The soft chirping of the nightingale and  trickle of the water fountain summoned slumber as the sweet smell of the roses and orange blossoms filled the night air. These memories are real treasures from my childhood with my grandparents in Iran that I want to share with Daisy. We like to bake together, decorate the house together and even tend to the roses in the front yard now and then. It's fun watching her moving things around. Just this morning, she moved a couple of tall candle holders off of a low china cabinet and set them on either side of the arched entryway between the living and dining rooms. I never would have thought to put anything there. So clever. She is always up for anything creative. 
Sugared fruit have always caught my eye. They're just so elegant, with that modest sparkle under certain light. The problem I have with sugaring anything is that the "glue" is often raw egg whites and I worry about bacteria. Thankfully there's meringue powder which is made of dried and pasteurized egg whites. Your local craft store will likely have the Wilton brand. Edible glitter adds a little sparkle and may be easier to find online than at the craft store. When I told Daisy the plan, she jumped at the chance to help right away and did a stellar job. We made sparkly white petals, red petals and pink petals in honor of Pinktober. They all turned out beautifully, so dainty and sweet.

Candied Rose Petals
Inspired by Zozobaking

What to Get
food-safe paint brush
two small bowls
small spoon
superfine sugar
2 tsp meringue powder
2 Tb water
edible glitter
organic flower petals

What to Do
In a small bowl, mix meringue powder with water until blended.

Fill the other bowl with sugar and edible glitter. Mix to combine.

Gently rinse the rose petals and set them to dry on a paper towel.
Dip the brush into the meringue mixture and coat a petal evenly.

Transfer the petal into the bowl with the glittered sugar.
Use the spoon to sprinkle the top of the petal with sugar.
Carefully set the petal onto a clean surface to dry.

Store dried petals in a clean glass jar until ready to use.
Now that Fall is officially here, the holidays are not too far away. We have been setting out our pumpkins, cute owls, baskets and pine cones, decorating our front porch and warming up our home. Food is also becoming more festive and while I love savory, you know I'm only just waiting for the sweet that follows.  The beautiful roses in full bloom in our front yard gave me an idea. Middle Eastern pastries are often perfumed with rose water. Preserving the petals in sugar would serve as lovely decorations for some cupcakes we were baking and give a little hint of the otherwise unexpected rosy flavor in the icing. They are so easy and fun to make, especially with the kids. Crown a cake with these pretty petals, nestle one into fluffy frosting swirled over a cupcake or just replace the old faithful cherry on top for a fresh take on hot fudge sundaes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

October Shop-Pink: Breast Cancer Awareness

October is near and dear to my heart as it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There were 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 worldwide, including me. I always think about other people who are affected by this devastating disease, wondering How are they coping? Are they as scareed as I was? Breast cancer strikes daughters, mothers, wives, sisters, grandmothers, friends, families. The survival rate for early detection is 80%, but the journey is terrifying, nonetheless. There is so much we can do to help those affected and fight for a cure. First of all, look out for yourself. Get the girls checked with self-exams regularly and, when you're old enough, annual mammograms. They saved my life. Another thing you can do to help is SHOP! We girls do love shopping, don't we? There are many merchants who offer donations to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) and the Susan G. Komen Foundation with every purchase. Here are a few favourites. Click on the pictures below to go right to the sites.

KitchenAid has a Cook for the Cure campaign and has committed to donating $450,000 this year to the Komen Foundation. This does not include donations from the sale of their Pink Collection,  a line of their best gadgets in a sweet pink color. Pink was never my favorite color, but recently, I have grown to love it. Get the complete set for your kitchen for a retro-chic mood in the best room of the house.

Clinique, Tom Ford and Prescriptives are supporting the BCRF with some of their classic cosmetics available through their BCA Campaign. Even Clinique's all-time bestselling Dramatically Different Moisturizer with its signature canary-yellow hue is on the table.

The Ford Motor Corporation has established Warriors in Pink, offering apparel for men and women, accessories and car decals. Their cozy gray and pink cardigan caught my eye and I am looking to get one for myself as well as for a friend.
Powerhouse breast cancer foundation in honor of Susan G. Komen has a nice shop full of useful gifts for every member of your family. This pom-pom scarf is too cute to resist. Pet lovers, this one's for you - is donating 30% of sales from their line of  adorable products and toys for your furry friend to the BCRF! Avon is a veteran supporter for the cure and has a shop full of adorable gifts like these snuggly pink booties.

You can also shop direct at the BCRF. Whether you are buying something for that someone special, looking for a birthday gift, doing early holiday shopping or just looking for a little something for yourself, your purchases can do double-duty and help save the lives of men and women affected by breast cancer. Tie that pink ribbon proudly to show your support for Pinkies worldwide!

More Pinktober ideas....

Piggy Celebration Cake!

Touch of Pink Tuxedo Pumpkins!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Torched Peaches with Mascarpone and Avocado Honey

Summer has given way to Autumn as the air fills with the anticipation of cozy weather. The heat and humidity will not be missed. I am ready for a change in seasons.  In fact, I am doing a rain dance, praying for chilly evenings . But the sweet harvest of the warm months will be difficult to forget. Luckily, there are still a few fresh peaches in the fridge.

Every trip to the market includes a stop by the peach bin, where I shamelessly hold a peach up to my nose for a sniff. Daisy watches carefully and takes note. She helps me pick the good ones. If the peach has no fragrance, it's probably not going to have any taste either. That's my test.We grab as many as we can carry and make a mad dash for the cash register.

On the way home, we talk about all the things we are going to bake with our newfound bounty. As I pull in to park behind our garage, I snap my seatbelt loose only to earn a lecture from my pint-sized companion about motor vehicle safety practices.

While I fumble with all the bags of groceries, Daisy runs into the house, straight to the kitchen, commanding me to cut a peach into slices for her. There's nothing better than sweet fresh peaches. Luckily, a few have managed to survive in the fridge and we agreed to work them into something baked. Daisy ran to the garden and picked some of the lemon thyme Daddy has planted for us. I grabbed the mascarpone from the fridge and the gorgeous avocado honey we got in Cambria. Something very special came together without even bothering Mr. Oven. We put my favorite kitchen gadget to work for a raw, decadent dessert, Torched Peaches with Mascarpone and Avocado Honey. And, while our li'l treat certainly sounds posh, there is nothing complicated about making it. There is very little prep-work. You can wash fruit, can't you? Then, this one's for you.

Torched Peaches with Mascarpone + Honey
Serves: 4
Prep: 10 mins
Torch: 2 mins

4 large peaches
8 Tb mascarpone cheese
2 Tb brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest
2 Tb avocado honey
2 sprigs fresh thyme

Wash peaches, halve and remove the pips.
Dab cut side dry with a paper towel.
Use a torch to caramelize the tops.

Combine mascarpone, brown sugar and vanilla.
Spoon into the pip crater of each peach half.
Sprinkle the tops with lemon zest, fresh thyme leaves and a general drizzle of honey.

Our trip to Cambria several months ago sparked the idea for this lovely dessert when I found avocado blossom honey at The Garden Shed, one of my favorite stops. I never even realized that avocado trees had flowers that would drawn the attention of bees. The flavor of this honey is more mild than typical clover honey and the sweetness more tame, making it a great addition to any dish, really.

With just a short list of ingredients and no cooking or baking required, these seared peaches pair beautifully with cool, creamy mascarpone cheese and sweet honey. Make sure you grab a plumber's torch from your nearly home improvement store. Fresh thyme adds just a bit of fragrant spice to the mix, making it a seemingly rich, yet luxuriously light finish to supper. Serve these sweeties with your favorite bubbly and dazzle your guests.
Fall may officially be here, but the mercury just keeps rising, at least for us poor souls in Southern California. For now, we will dream of falling leaves and chilly breezes as we enjoy that last kiss of summer.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

In a perfect world, there would be more chocolate chips in a a cookie than dough. Our world is not perfect, but our cookies can be. Thanks to a secret ingredient that replaces some of the butter in the batter, the cookies hold their cute, li'l dome shapes and bake to a lovely texture. The outer layer has a delicate crumble that cracks under the tooth and leads way to a moist center with rich, creamy chocolate chips. That, my friends, is the perfect chocolate chip cookie and you can make it in a snap.

People collect all sorts of things. Some collect vintage automobiles. Others are on the lookout for costume jewelry. Despite having several really good chocolate chip cookie recipes, I can never resist trying a new one. Chocolate chippers are a childhood favorite for many of us and follow us well into our silver days. Some people like thin, crunchy cookies while others prefer chunky, chewy ones. Either way, cream cheese is the secret ingredient that brings a fresh punch of flavor to the good old chipper and magically changes the texture to a light crumble everyone can appreciate. I took a batch of these li'l sweethearts to the office yesterday and got so many requests for the recipe. All it takes is a few pantry items, a big bowl and wooden spoon. Prepare the batter and store it in the fridge for up to a week. That way, it's ready when you are. Make these cookies with the kids for the kids and for that little kid in you.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Prep: 15 mins
Bake: 30 mins
Makes: 4 dozen cookies

1 stick salted butter, @ room temp
1/2 brick (4 oz) cream cheese, @ room temp
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 free range large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips (+ maybe a smidge extra)
1/2 cup raw pistachios (optional)

Set cream cheese out onto the kitchen counter
maybe 30 minutes before you start making the cookie batter.
Set butter over low heat until toasty and nutty, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter, cream cheese and sugars until smooth.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Slowly incorporate flour mixture.
Fold chocolate chips and pistachios (if using) into the batter.

Take a tablespoon of cookie dough and roll into a ball.
Arrange them about 1" apart and chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375*F.

Bake 8-10 minutes.
Use a spatula to gently lift cookies and set onto a wire rack to cool.
Serve still warm with little shots of ice-cold milk.

There is no shortage of chocolate chip cookie recipes out there and I have tried very many of them. This one, I have already made 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Yes, they really are that good. My niece and nephew get a weekly supply of fresh cookie batter delivered and Her Royal Littleness will finally put all her toys away just so she can have a couple. You would think after several really good recipes, I would give it a rest and stop looking, but I just can't. Maybe I'm trying to make sure what I have really is the best stuff. You know, because before long, my little Daisy will be old enough to run home from school and say, "Mommy! Can you bake 600 cookies for the tomorrow's bake sale?" It's a small sacrifice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Albaloo Polo - Persian Sour Cherry Rice

Sour cherries are a Middle Eastern treasure. We just love them. We sugar them, we pickle them, anything to make them last until next summer.
We especially love tossing them into rice which is ever-present on the dinner table. I remember when I was a kid, my parents would take us cherry-picking somewhere not too far from Los Angeles.

Cherries love cold weather and these days, fresh sour cherries are hard to find here in Southern California. Daisy was a newborn last time we got Balatons, a variety from Utah. There were only a few boxes this year and they disappeared quickly, even at a whopping $15/kilo. Sadly, I only got 4 lbs which made maybe 2 cups of preserve. Luckily, there was just enough left over for one of my most favorite dishes, Albaloo Polo

Sweet-tart juicy cherries pair well with beef or chicken layered between fluffy saffron-scented rice.This is a comforting dish that requires some patience in preparation, but don't let that intimidate you. It's done in stages which makes it perfect for planning ahead. You can even cook the meat with the onions and cherries, then freeze them for when the mood strikes. The rice is the last step, which should be done fresh before serving. You can enjoy Albaloo Polo even on a busy weeknight.

Using quality ingredients is the secret to success in cooking. With its unmistakable sweet fragrant flavor, saffron is crucial in this dish. I get mine online from Persian Basket. They carry the highest quality threads. Saffron should be gently ground in a mortar and pestle with a bit of sugar, then steeped in hot water like tea. This releases the essential oils for maximum flavor. For convenience, there is now bottled liquid saffron available.

Fresh sour cherries are not always easy to find, even during the summer season. Dried sour cherries are widely available. Look for canned varieties at your supermarket or the dried Tart Montmorencies in the dried fruit and nut section of your local Trader Joe's. Regular sweet cherries are fine, too, and easy to find in your grocer's frozen food aisle. Just add a bit of extra lemon juice to adjust the flavor. Admittedly, there are some non-traditional elements to my recipe (i.e. the Worchestershire sauce), but the results are stellar. I only hope Persian mothers will forgive me.

Albaloo Polo - Persian Sour Cherry Rice
Serves 6
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 30 mins

1 tsp saffron
1 tsp sugar
2 Tb hot water
1 1/2 cups pitted sour cherries
1 lemon, juice + zest (or 2 lemons if using sweet cherries)
2 Tb butter
1 medium white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 lb ribeye steak (certified humane, pasture-raised)
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
salt + pepper to taste

2 cups basmati rice
2 Tb salt
3 cups water

3 Tb raw pistachios

Heat a few tablespoons of water.
Crush saffron threads with a bit of sugar.
Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and set aside to steep.

Meanwhile, place cherries, lemon juice + zest and a bit of butter
over low heat and cook 10 minutes.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a large pan over medium-high heat.
Chop onion and add to pan.
Sautee until golden-brown.

Using the flat of the knife blade, give the garlic cloves a good bashing, then
mince finely. Set aside to rest at least 10 minutes.
Add to pan and fry a minute or two.

Trim and cut steak into 1/2-inch cubes.
Add to pan, along w turmeric, Worchestershire.
Season to taste.

Rinse rice several times until water is clear. (Do not discard the wash water - reserve to water your plants. We're going through a severe drought this summer and every drop counts.)

Add 2 tablespoons of salt and enough water to just cover the top of the rice.
Place over medium heat, gently stir a couple times with a wooden spoon,
put the lid on and let the rice steam, ~10-15 minutes.

Now, it is time to layer everything.
Move most of the rice into a large bowl, leaving an inch on the bottom of the pot.
Gently fluff the rice with a fork as you go.
Sprinkle cherry-butter mixture over the rice.
Top with more rice, then with the meat mixture.
Finish with the last of the cherry mixture and rice.
Lower to heat, put the lid on and let the rice steam another 15-20 minutes.

Invert rice onto a large platter, crown with a generous sprinkling of pistachios
and serve with fresh salad.

Middle Easterners, in general, cannot live without rice. It is our regional staple and appears on the table nearly every night. If you plan to tackle this dish all at once, save time by using as many of your stove burners at once as possible. The onions can be sauteed while the cherries are cooking in butter and the rice is steaming. Remember Albaloo Polo lends itself well to cooking in stages. Much of the prep-work can be done early on and even frozen so that it all comes together shortly before dinnertime. Cherries aren't just for pie, anymore.

Summer's bounty brings some of my most favorite fruits - luscious peaches, velvet apricots and glorious cherries. Some summers pass without the appearance of fresh sour cherries.  Fresh, frozen or dried, sweet or sour, whatever cherries you find, you must try this Persian classic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Salted Tomato Bruschetta

Some memories are like hazy dreams, but tastes and aromas are unforgettable, like the smell of salted ripe tomatoes. Something magical happens when salt is sprinkled over slices of tomatoes, especially if they are nice and ripe. It takes me right back to my childhood in Iran. I see my grandmother Nina in her favorite apron standing at a white wooden table facing a big sun-drenched window in the basement. There is a mountain of plump red tomatoes stacked near one of those old hand-cranked food mills and rows of glass jars shimmering in the sunlight. Every summer, my grandmother would preserve fresh tomatoes the old fashioned way so we could enjoy them through the long snowy winter.
We left those long winters behind when we moved to California where fresh produce is plentiful year-round. Small grocers in our little town carry fruits and vegetables from local farms. We're happy to support family businesses and our farmers. The really good stuff is usually somewhere near the cash register. Berries, pluots, and a big box of luscious, fire-engine-red field tomatoes or դաշտի լոլիկ (dashti lolig as they're called in Armenian). They look so pretty that it's hard to believe they're real. While waiting for my turn to pay for my groceries, I pick one up. Then another one winks at me. So I pick him up, too, and another and another, as many as I can carry. What I'm going to do with them is a mystery, of course. Maybe they'll get stuffed or maybe get tossed into panzanella. It's not until I see the tomatillos and dive out of line, fumbling like a clumsy circus clown to grab a few that the question "What are we having for dinner tonight?" finally gets an answer. Refreshing and ready in minutes, gazpacho is exactly what this hot, humid weather demands. Plus, those juicy tomatoes will do nicely the perfect sidekick in the form of a bruschetta.
As I became more interested in cooking over the years, I discovered the tomato's cute, green look-alike that's a staple in the Mexican kitchen: The tomatillo. This little guy wants you to believe it's a tomato with a superhero cape, but is technically unrelated to its red counterpart. They may not be family, but they certainly get along famously and are often paired in traditional salsas. Expanding on that idea, a meal-size portion of gazpacho would do nicely. The subtle tart taste of the tomatillo highlights the tomato's sweetness beautifully. Put your blender to work and whip up a creamy batch with tomatillos and avocados. Offered with crusty bread topped with luscious salted tomatoes, this chilled soup is a soothing treat everyone craves at the end of a long, hot day.
Make it vegan. Make it vegetarian.The men will ask, "Where's the beef?" Frozen cooked, peeled shrimp add just the right amount of protein and flavor. Smooth cannellini beans are a great meatless option. Whether you roast the tomatillos or not, this gazpacho promises to please. The only things I cooked were the leeks and garlic. Everything else went into the mix in fresh form and the results were stellar. 

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Salted Tomato Bruschetta
Serves: 4
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes

2 large tomatoes
2 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
1 leek
4 tomatillos
3 Persian cucumbers
1 Granny Smith apple
1 avocado
Salt + pepper to taste
1 lime
1 cup ice
1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, cooked (optional)
2 Tb crumbled feta cheese
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 loaf crusty bread

Wash and chop tomatoes into small cubes.
Collect in a bowl and sprinkle salt over the top.
Gently stir with a spoon to coat the tomato well with the salt.
Set aside.

Drizzle some olive oil into a pan and place it over medium heat.

Wash and slice the leeks. 
Add to the pan and cook for a few minutes.
Place the garlic cloves under the flat of the knife blade and give them a good bashing,
one at a time.
Mince and add to the pan and cook until sweet and fragrant, maybe 3 minutes.

Peel and wash tomatillos.
Toss them into a blender or food processor.
Wash the cucumbers.
Peel the apple.
Cut avocado down the center, remove the seed and scoop out the flesh.
Add 2 of the cucumbers, apple and 1/2 the avocado to the blender.
Add cooled garlic + leek.
Blitz until smooth.

Chop the remaining cucumber and 1/2 avocado.
Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice.
Chop shrimp and combine with the cucumber and avocado.
Season with salt and pepper.

Divide gazpacho between 4 bowls, top with 2 tablespoons of the shrimp salad.
Add a dash of crumbled feta cheese and finish with a sprinkle of fresh thyme.
Top slices of crusty bread with the salted tomatoes and serve.

Summer is coming to a close and some of us are anxious for the cooler days of Autumn. Until then, reap the rewards of the sunny harvest and revive a long-forgotten treasure, the gazpacho. Cool and refreshing, this vibrant soup is sure to renew a soul worn by the heat. Being healthy never tasted so good.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Chocolate Raspberry Tiramisu (Eggless)

Now is no time to run the hot oven, but for those of us who love baking, there must be some alternatives. Enter Tiramisu, a luscious Italian dessert made with delicate ladyfinger cookies soaked in rum and coffee, sandwiched between fluffy white clouds made of whipped cream and mascarpone cheese, crowned with crushed chocolate and fresh raspberries. Tiramisu means pick me up in Italian, making it just what the doctor ordered after an exhausting day in the hot summer sun.

Unless you are a superhero baker like my friend Fariba of Zozo Baking, you don't need to bake anything. She makes baking your own ladyfinger cookies look so easy, but I'm what you call lazy. That's right. No need to run the oven at all, which is a blessing now that the mercury is rising. A quick trip to your local Italian deli, Middle Eastern grocery store or Trader Joe's for a packet of ready-made cookies imported from Italy, some mascarpone cheese and you're ready to get started.
This little sweetheart is actually much better the next day, after everything has softened nicely and the flavors have developed. The classic recipe is often printed right on the side of the ladyfingers package, but I have made a few changes of my own. These lightly sweet cookies are first dipped in coffee and rum, but I dip mine in espresso and Kahlua which also has coffee liqueur. The traditional recipe usually calls for raw egg yolks which I omitted years ago when my sister was pregnant and haven't missed since then. There should be a generous dusting of cocoa powder on top, but I find the cocoa just absorbs moisture in the fridge, then looks rather unappealing. Grated chocolate holds up much better and tastes better, especially when you top every layer with it. Then, for the final touch, a good drizzle of decadent chocolate sauce is optional, but highly recommended. There really are no rules or exact measurements in making tiramisu. You can toss one together with whatever you have on hand and improvise as you go.

Chocolate Raspberry Tiramisu (Eggless)
Serves 8
Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 0 minutes
Chill: 1 hour +

2 shots espresso
2 shots Kahlua
30-32 ladyfinger cookies
2 cups heavy cream
8oz mascarpone
2 tsp vanilla
2 packets Cadbury Flake shaved chocolate
8oz fresh raspberries
3 Tb chocolate syrup (optional)

Make the coffee and transfer it to a shallow pie dish. Add Kahlua.

Whip heavy cream with vanilla until fluffy. Gently fold mascarpone into the whipped cream.

Arrange a layer of dry cookies onto the bottom of a casserole dish so you get
an idea how many you'll need to cover a layer.

Dip cookies one at a time into the coffee + rum mixture, flipping twice and arrange evenly into the casserole pan. Spoon half of the cream + cheese layer over the cookies.

Crush the Flake chocolate in the packet before opening it. Open one end and sprinkle chocolate over the whipped cream + cheese.
Repeat with another layer of soaked ladyfingers and fluffy whipped cream + mascarpone.
Top with the last of the chocolate.
Arrange raspberries over the chocolate and drizzle with chocolate sauce.

Originally, it should be coffee and cocoa, but don't be afraid to change the flavours. I've done a lemon blueberry version that was out of this world. Tiramisu is a luxurious dessert that comes together in a blink. It is so much fun to make, especially with the kids, because unlike traditional baking, there are no exact measurements, no worries about oven temperature. You can make it large enough to feed an army or small another to treat that special someone. It's light and refreshing with a lovely boost from its mild sweetness and kick from espresso. It's Italy's answer to icebox cake. The longer it chills in the fridge, the more irresistible it tastes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Apricots Stuffed with Cheese and Pistachios: A Guest Post by Cookbook Author Greg Henry

If I pray long enough to the Renovation Gods, do you think they will give me a kitchen like Greg Henry's? Whether it's the witty title or the actual beauty of the design itself, his article about the remodel that took 905 days caught many eyes, including Food and Wine Magazine.  He has authored two beautiful cookbooks which challenge us to rethink tradition with Savory Pies and Savory Cocktails. An avid globe-trotter, he co-hosts The Table Set, #2 on LA Weekly's list of 5 Podcasts for Food Lovers. Fresh and frank, his work has been featured on Saveur's Best of the Web, The Today Show Online and the Los Angeles Times. Greg is home at Sippity Sup where he offers insight not only on food, but wine, travel and entertaining.  A while back, I stumbled onto his site. It was either his clever Apple Pie Cake or effortlessly elegant Apricot Appetizer that reeled me in. After seeing photos on his site, I knew I had to make good use of the sweet apricots that were in season and the gorgeous pistachios I got from Persian Basket. Key to easy entertaining, this is one appetizer that does not require precise instructions or measurements. Greg recommends chives which I didn't have. I did have plenty of lemon thyme growing in the garden. The whole thing came together in minutes and turned out to be such a beauty to see and a delight to eat. So I asked him to share some thoughts with us.

When Coco asked me to do a guest post on her blog, I’ll admit my first reaction was flummoxed confusion. Me? Why me?

You see, right or wrong, I’m not what you’d call a joiner by nature. I don’t go on tour group vacations. I don’t take classes and I don’t read self-help books. I don’t like spectator sports and I won’t hold your place in line if I’ve never met you before. I’m fiercely loyal to those I love (and I have heard) I’m hard to get to know. Some people think this makes me a curmudgeon (or worse yet a snob!). But really I’m just kinda shy. If it’s possible to be an extroverted introvert, that’s exactly what I am.

So when Coco offered me the opportunity to come here and get to know her readers better, naturally I balked. Shy people balk when presented with new situations. However, Coco said I could do “anything” I wanted in my guest post. I think she meant any kind of recipe. After all, I’ve been pecking out recipes on my blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food (link since 2008. I’ve written two cookbooks – well one “cook” book and one “booze” book. (link here ) so I can see why she thought she might be getting a recipe out of me today. But she said “anything”. The trouble with the word anything is that it can mean anything at all. I’m not sure Coco is ready for Greg Henry the blogger – with no holds barred!

So I’ve set a few rules so as not to shock anyone too deeply today. The first rule is I have to be true to myself. The second rule is I won’t try to say anything the way Coco might say it . The third rule is I promise to be good.

You see I have very particular ideas about blogs.The best blogs are blogs where you pretty much know what to expect when you check in at the door. Coco’s blog is about cooking, sure. But it’s also about family. Family through the lens of an Armenian-American identity. Many of you probably come to Coco’s blog because you identify with her voice. You don’t have to be Armenian-American or be well-versed in the buttery complexities of Nazook (link here ) to recognize the love of a mother and daughter. Maybe you come to this blog just to feel the radiance of that love. I know I’ve turned many a blue day golden reading about the chocolate “chippers” in Daisy’s Crumb Cookies. (link )

So what would someone like me have to say to the readers of Coco in the Kitchen? I’m a gay man of a certain age. A man with strong opinions about food and (as you can tell from these words) strong opinions about blogs too. In fact I’ve been known to take perfectly happy blog readers and turn them into Grumpy Gregs explaining why I don’t always like cookies. (link here ) It’s a gift I have!

I’m being silly. And I’m exaggerating. That’s what I do When people come to my blog they have to be ready for that kind of behavior. But you didn’t come to my blog. You came to Coco’s blog.

Do you see my dilemma? I can’t be Coco, I can only be me. 

So rather than politely refuse Coco’s offer. I thought I’d bravely check in and present myself exactly as I am. Have you read my 100 Things About Greg in Chronological Order? Let me just say these are 100 things nobody ever expected to find at a food blog.

Yet, here we are at Coco’s food blog. Maybe we should try and get to know each other better over dinner. I’m inviting you to a virtual dinner party. I’ll plan the menu, I’ll do the cooking and I’ll even provide the photos and links to each of the six courses in this dinner party. While I’m at it why don’t you tell me a little more about you. GREG 

Appetizer: Stuffed Apricots with Cream Cheese, Pistachios, Chives and Balsamic Reduction  

Cocktail: Atomic Cocktail 

First Course: The Little River Inn’s Crab Cakes 

Main Course: Braised Lamb Shanks with Curried Cauliflower and Roasted Grapes 

Salad: Shaved Purple Aspargus Salad with Walnuts 

Dessert: Eucalyptus Ice Cream with walnut Pralines

Greg really knows how to set a table. An endearing soul, he revives long-forgotten offerings with a fresh approach. Old cocktails come back with a wild spin. Pies become cakes or do cakes become pies? Innovative ideas spin from his mind onto beautiful pages. He makes it all look so simple, simple enough to inspire anyone to put on the chef's apron.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Easy Homemade Canelés

We rarely get date nights these days. So, Saturday night, Daisy got to go to a birthday party and had a sugar-fueled blast playing in a bouncy castle while Shawn and I went out to a funky little place for dinner. We relaxed, sipped cocktails, chatted mostly about missing Daisy. The warm olives reminded us of those we had at a hip Italian place in London many years ago. Then dinner arrived, a lovely roast chicken for Shawn and a whole branzino for me, which was an odd choice since I usually don't like my food staring at me.  It was lovely. We definitely ate too much, though, but not enough to refuse the sweet little canelés offered at the door on our way out. I first heard of them from my chef friend Sayat. The photos I found showed pretty little molded cakes that looked a tad burnt, even the ones made by the pros. Canelés are typically French, reputed to be very difficult to make. "Oh, the batter is so finicky. It needs to rest, but just long enough, but not too long. Wait too much and you are doomed for," the hostess said. Because I'd never had one before, I was even so bold as to ask for an extra one to take home to my little sweetheart. Well, I could not wait to get home and see if they are even worth all that trouble.  One taste of these cute, little bite-sized cakes with a crisp caramel coating and a spongy, vanilla-scented center and I was done for. I was intrigued by what the hostess had said about the fussy recipe, so much, in fact, that I stayed up late to find out just how difficult it was to make these cute little things.

One recipe said the batter must rest in the fridge for some magical amount of time, then warmed to room temperature for an hour before baking. Another called for coating the signature fluted molds with beeswax (which I neither had nor planned to get). I even found one that said something about heating the oven with the door open, then closing it and reducing the temp, waiting another x amount of time before starting the baking. Each claimed to be the authentic recipe, the original antique formula from Bordeaux. One said 2 eggs for 1/2 cup flour, while another said 3 eggs, 2 yolks for 1/2 cup flour. Trying to figure out which was the best recipe was dizzying. A recipe should be so straight-forward that you can almost figure out the instructions without having to read them. Beeswax, special fluted molds and tons of time, I don't have, nor am I going to engage in ridiculous antics. Butter, mini cupcake pans and persistence, however, I do have. So, I decided to do my own thing and got a winner, incredibly irresistible and ready in minutes. Dad loved them so much that when I offered to make his usual favorite crème caramel, he said, "Hmm, no, I want you to make those little thingies." That's when I knew I had something really good.

The dough for canelés is a close cousin to popovers or Yorkshire pudding, moist and spongy inside. This also means they are prone to collapsing once they come out of the oven. Several things contribute to the centers dropping:
*Too much sugar

*Adding the eggs all at once

*Rigorous mixing

*Opening the oven door

Don't worry if the center collapses, because you might get lucky and end up with a cute little heart-shaped crater right in the middle like mine. Use a mixer, if you have one, but I gently whisk the batter by hand, just like a French grandmother. Grab a pitcher instead of a bowl for easy pouring and follow the instructions. Your canelés will come out perfectly every time. Resist the urge to open the oven door. It's perfectly alright if some of them burn around the edges. Those actually taste better than the rest.

Easy Homemade Canelés
Makes: 2 dozen bites
Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 40 minutes

3 Tb butter + more to coat pan
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour + more to coat pan
1/2 cup sugar
big pinch salt
2 whole free-range eggs
2 Tb spiced dark rum

Brush the wells of a mini cupcake pan with butter, then dust with flour.
Chill the cupcake pan in the fridge.

Heat 3 tablespoons of butter, milk and vanilla on low just before boiling.
Remove from heat.
Add rum and set aside to cool.

Combine dry ingredients (flour, sugar and salt) in a large bowl or pitcher.
Beat eggs lightly and add to the dry ingredients.

Drizzle cooled milk mixture into the mix and stir gently to combine.

Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, even overnight.
Set the batter out of the fridge for 15 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 475*F.

Pour batter into the wells of the cupcake pan(s) and transfer to the hot oven.

Do not open the oven door!

After 5 minutes, reduce heat to 350*F and bake another 40-45 minutes, until fragrant.
Remove from oven and allow the canelés to rest in the pan 2-3 minutes.
Use a knife to gently coax them out of the pan and serve.
Canelés are best eaten fresh out of the oven or the same day they are baked.

Some say canelés came about in 18th Century Bordeaux when nuns collected flour that had spilled onto the docks from shipments and baked little cakes in molds nestled in the embers of a fire for poor children. Both the spelling of its name and the particulars of the recipe have morphed since then. The use of beeswax and vanilla is more recent.

French food is a paradox, either elegantly simple or insanely complicated. It's just too hot and humid to run the big oven now, but after tasting my first canelé, I  had to try my hand at making them. While I haven't invested in the copper molds that give these little cakes their trademark shape, I did put my mini cupcake pans to work in my toaster oven and the results proved absolutely delicious. The crispy, caramel sugar coating breaks gently under the tooth, giving way to a spongy, almost custard-like center, a sweet little thing.

The sweetest things come in small packages, after all. A love note in your pocket on Ordinary Tuesday, a treasure in a small velvet box, a sleepy little bundle with a sweet face and buttery canelés from your very own kitchen. Such is the timeline to my happiness. I hope history repeats itself over and over again.