Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Girls in Trucks Giveaway

Once a Camellia always a Camellia is the motto Sarah was raised with as a Camellia Society debutante. Attending the Charleston Cotillion Training School is a rite of passage for Sarah and her friends. In her debut novel author Katie Crouch introduces the reader to the rituals of a Southern Debutante.

I was initially drawn to this book by its cover. For me, the cover screams feminine and carefree, evoking images of pecan pie, lemonade and pearl necklaces. It has always amazed me as I travel around the country how different we are in our style. Here in Southern California I often think that the women all dress alike. In Washington D.C. I noticed lots of pearl necklaces and collared shirts. The women in Chicago all had style with their scarves and sweaters.

If you want to be introduced to the life of a Southern debutante I am giving away a copy of my gently read copy of Girls in Trucks. For a chance to win this book just leave a comment on your favorite Southern dish, along with a way to contact you. The giveaway ends June 7th. Sorry this is only open to addresses in Canada and the United States.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tomato Salad


The Daily Tiffin is posting a blog event on May 30th about growing your own. What are you growing in your garden?

Me? Herbs.

I have been thinking about writing a post about my herb garden for a few weeks. Ever since Earth Day to be exact. This is my second year growing an herb garden and I thought it would be an ideal post for Earth Day. While I never got around to writing the post, my herbs did not wait for me and have been happily growing.

My backyard is pure cement, my little front garden, pure clay. My only option for an herb garden was to use a pot. One of the wonderful features about herbs is they do not require lots of space. I found a large pot and planted, lemon thyme, french thyme, tarragon, basil and pineapple mint. My thought behind the garden was to plant herbs I would regularly use.

The initial expense ran me about $35.00 I needed to purchase the pot, potting soil, herbs, and plant food. This has been a fun investment. Think about every time you purchase fresh herbs at the store. I always spend about $2.00-which may not sound that expensive, but if you are spending that each week it starts to add up. For me the benefits of having my own herb garden are an environmental (no plastic containers to throw out) and a feeling of satisfaction. I truly enjoy watching my little garden grow. There is something fun about opening the front door and going outside to pick some herbs.

One of my other neighbors has an herb garden and we all have an understanding that we can visit each other's garden and pick what we want.

On Saturday mornings after a good work-out I like to treat myself to a post workout omelette. There are always two ingredients in my omelette, tomatoes and lemon thyme. Okay three I love a cheesy omelette. The kitchen always has a beautiful aroma as the lemon thyme is simmering in the pan.



The beauty of tomatoes are that they can be enjoyed with all the herbs I have in the garden except for the mint. Eaten raw tomatoes are great with a slice of buffalo mozzarella and a basil leaf, grilled the possibilities are endless, thyme, herbs de provence, oregano you can let your imagination go wild. Just place them on the bar-b-que and grill away.

A few years ago I came across a collection of stories written by Collette Rossant, a Parisian Egyptian who now lives in the United States. How could anyone resist a book titled "Apricots on the Nile". Shipped off to Egypt before the beginning of the war, Rossant has an appreciation for Egyptian and French cooking.
Her book is a collection of childhood memories and recipes. One of my favorite recipes from her book is for a tomato salad. As the tomatoes ripen on the vine, this is a great summer salad.

I must confess that given I do this recipe by heart I am not sure if it is truly accurate out of the book.

TOMATO SALAD (adapted from Collette Rossant's Apricots on the Nile)

10 large cherry tomatoes
a good splash of olive oil
half a lemon squeezed
two garlic cloves crushed
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon chopped

Blanch the tomatoes. After blanching them, peel them and toss them with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic cloves and tarragon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Clafoutis and a tribute to Thomas Buergenthal


There are numerous ways that I find new books to read, LA Times Bestseller list, my local library and book blogs. A few weeks ago, I saw a review for "A Lucky Child"; this is Thomas Buergenthal's memoirs of surviving Auschwitz as a young boy.

As sombre, as these books often are, enough of these stories could not be told. As an attorney, Buergenthal's career fascinated me. Buergenthal received law degrees from New York University Law School and Harvard Law School and devoted his life to international and human rights law. Currently he is the American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague Netherlands. Having served on various human rights committees, he believes that his Holocaust experience has had a very substantial impact on the human being he became. Buergenthal says it impacted "on his life as an international law professor, human rights lawyer, and international judge. It might seem obvious that my past would draw me to human rights and to international law, whether or not I knew it at the time. In any event, it equipped me to be a better human rights lawyer, if only because I understood, not only intellectually but also emotionally, what it is like to be a victim of human rights violations I could, after all, feel it in my bones".

Buergenthal was only ten when he found himself at Auschwitz. Along the way, his father had devised ways for him to survive and avoid "being selected". His memoir tells his amazing story of surviving the ghettos, labor camps and being separated from his parents as a ten year old child. Starved to the point of malnutrition, his father had warned him against eating food found in the garbage.

During his time in a labor camp, one of his duties was to collect garbage. Once while collecting garbage outside the SS kitchen, he had his friends saw a pan filled with milk. It had been years since he had tasted milk. The decision to climb into the kitchen and take a few sips was quickly made. He knew what his punishment would have been if he had been caught. Buergenthal writes "but we were not caught, and to this day I can still taste that heavenly mouthful of milk. No milk has ever tasted so good". He then goes on to say how his own children would have to be coaxed to drink milk and how he would have to hide his anger that they did not appreciate having milk. I could relate to Buergenthals' frustration. My parents were children of the war. My mother's home was bombed by the Nazis, burying my grandmother alive and leaving my uncle without eyesight in one eye. My father's family escaped such horrors. My dad always provided a nice warm meal for us three times a day. He loved taking us out for dessert. However he had one cardinal rule; do not let your eyes be bigger than your mouth. Nothing would raise the ire of my father, a rather quiet man, more than us children wasting food. As an adult it is easy to understand where this frustration came from. During the war he and his siblings were often without food as they would spend the night in bomb shelters.

As a tribute to Buergenthal and every other resident of the labor camps, I am sharing a recipe for Clafoutis. I call this dish a French dessert quiche. I had never had it before visiting the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in France. Saint Cirq is a small village perched high on a cliff about the Lot River. As you drive up the winding road the village comes into view.



After having a terrible argument that only spouses can have the night before my husband and I enjoyed a beautiful morning in the village. The village had been shrouded in early morning fog as we drove up the cliff. After walking thru the village and taking numerous photos, we found a lovely bakery and decided to sit down for some sweets and tea. I had never heard of clafoutis before. Thankfully I speak french and was able to understand the server behind the counter when he explained to me what was inside this dessert. Given it is made with eggs, milk and fruit is why I think of it as a French dessert quiche.

It has been three summers since my visit and to this day I remember everything about the dessert and the bakery. There were two men working there and they brought out my tea in a lovely white teapot, complete with crisp linen. Next to us was a British couple. Not to bag on the Brits, but their French can be rather atrocious. I can still hear the lady saying Muurci Beaucoopp, as she started to complain about her cuppa tea.


For us, it was a lovely morning. While my clafouits I make at home do not taste like the one, I enjoyed that morning, I still have fond memories of my visit. This time of the year is the perfect time to make this dessert. Cherry clafoutis, is quite traditional, you can use plums, pears really any fruit you like.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tropical Mango Tart


May seems to have been the month of Tarts and Pierre Herme. Yesterday was my husband's birthday and once again, I was pouring over books deciding what would be the perfect dessert for his birthday.

Given that all the summer fruit has been arriving at our market, I decided I wanted to make a dessert with lots of fruit. However it still had to have somewhat of a cake consistency. I have never sung Happy Birthday over a pie. There always seems to be a cake when Happy Birthday is sung.

I found the perfect tart, Tropical Tart, layered with a crust made with crushed almonds, followed by a filling with shredded coconut and topped off by ripe mango and kiwi. My kitchen had the aroma of a pina colada.



This tart was perfect, as I also had a craving to make ice-cream. I am not sure if you remember, last month when my friend was in town, and I made a coconut cake. My husband complained that he never got coconut cake. Well guess what, he not only got to celebrate his birthday with a tropical tart, there was coconut ice cream, to serve with his tart a la mode.

The morning of his birthday I was up early baking away. The ice cream mixture had been made the night before and need to be refrigerated over night. Perfect. I could churn it in the morning and it would have time to freeze during the day.

The tart filling was just as easy. I already had the crust leftover from when I made the lemon tart. What I liked about this filling was that I could make it the night before and bake it the next day. In fact it was recommended that the tart filling be chilled overnight. I am sure I am the only lawyer, who made ice cream and baked a tart before heading off to court to argue for my client's. This would make a great entry on facebook, 8 a.m., made coconut ice cream and tropical tart before court.

Given the tart needed to cool off before placing the fruit on it, the timing could not have been better. By 8 a.m. the tart had cooled enough for me to pop it into the fridge before I headed out the door. When I came home later that day all I needed to do was layer the fruit on the tart. The recipe called for mango and kiwi. I added some black berries for a little more contrast and color. You can really place whatever fruit you want. The filling has shredded coconut in it, so I wanted to stay tropical. I think that raspberries would also make a nice compliment.



Once again, Pierre Herme, has a great description for this tart, he suggests the tart may remind you of nothing so much as a Mounds Bar.

TROPICAL TART RECIPE

1 unbaked 10 1/2 inch sweet tart dough (see the recipe at the lemon tart post)

the filling
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 cup unsweetened shredded dried coconut
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup very full heavy cream

1. Working in a large bowl with a large spatula, mix the filling ingredients together, one by one, in the order in which they are listed. Your aim is to blend the ingredients without overbeating or whipping them. If you whip too much air into the filling it will rise in the oven and then fall. If you have the time let the filling rest overnight in the fridge. Chilling and resting the filling takes the air out of it so that it does not rise and fall in the oven.

2. Spoon the filling into the tart shell and bake for 38-42 minutes, or until the filling is golden brown. Transfer the tart, still in its ring to a rack to cool to room temperature.

the topping
1 ripe mango
3-4 kiwis
1/2 cup transparent glaze

1. Peel the mango and cut into small cubes. Place the cubes in the center of the tart; leave a border bare for the kiwis. Peel the kiwis and cut them in half the long way. Place each half cut side down on a board and cut crosswise into very thin slices. Arrange the kiwi slices in a circle around the mango.

2. Warm the glaze and pour or spoon it over the fruit to cover the top of the tart evenly. Refrigerate the tart for a few hours. This tart is best eaten the day it is made.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Feast




I must say that I cannot take credit for any of the delicious pastries in the photos. I am not the proud baker-although I am the happy recipient of getting to devour. They have been baked with much love and care by the church ladies at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church.

St. John's has been having a Greek festival for the past 7 years. I first found out about the festival from an ad on a bus, which is really quite funny considering that no-one takes the bus in Southern California. Advertising works. This was the same year of the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We had just come back from our honeymoon, so why not let's go to the Greek Festival.

That was seven years ago; we still go back for the food, music and I have some friends that work at the festival. Over the years the festival has grown, adding more booths each year, but the food has always been consistent.

The women at St. John's get together the week before the festival and start baking and cooking. You can have your choice of gyros, moussaka, dolmathes, spanakopita, pasticho and more. My husband and I sample it all. We have a routine. We usually start of the evening outdoors, the festival is held on the church property. Our first stop is at the gyros stand, where a District Attorney that I have been up against before is cooking the meat. Nothing like having your adversary cooking your meet. No fears here, he is running for Judge next year.

After enjoying our gyros we usually head inside to the gymnasium for a sampling of spanakopita and moussaka. While standing in line, you see tray after tray coming out. Spanakopita is filo dough with a spinach filling. It can also be made with feta cheese. My mother in law does an Armenian version with ground meat and pine nuts. Moussaka is layered dish of potatoes, eggplant, ground beef, tomato sauce and a milk and cheese topping.

This year we discovered two new dishes, pasticho, and potatoes topped with oregano and feta cheese. I would never have thought of putting oregano with potatoes.

After we have savored the food, we usually head back outside to visit with my friends and enjoy the dancing. This year we had plenty of dessert. My girlfriend works at one of the dessert booths, and we were treated well.

The funny thing is for all the years we have been going to the festival I have yet to sample all the desserts. It seems that we have our favorites and stick to them. Each year they are as delicious as I remember them from the year before. The church ladies have put together a cookbook, so while it would not be the same, I can enjoy them year round.

Below is the recipe for KOURAMBIETHES, courtesy of Wanda Manias. Kourambiethes are similar to Mexican Wedding cookies. The Kourambiethes is the white cookies. The square pastry is baklava and the long pastry is kataife.

KOURAMBIETHES

1 box powdered sugar
1 lb butter
1 jigger Cognac
6 cups flour
1/2 cup almonds chopped
1 tsp almond extract

Cream together butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Add cognac, almonds and almond extract. Mix together well. Add flour and mix well again until a soft dough is formed. Pinch of a small amount of dough and form into half moon. Center each one with a clove bud. Place on greased cookie sheet about 3/4 inch apart. Bake in preheated over at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown.

Sift powdered sugar into a large bowl and when cookies are done dip in powdered sugar or sift powdered suugar on top of cookies until well coated.

Makes 4 dozen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lemon Tart



Last week, we celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. 7 years. I have no idea who invented the list of traditional and modern anniversary gifts, but I am waiting to celebrate the anniversary that is a trip to Paris. Each year my husband always presents me with a gift tied into that year's theme. It is rather fun and sometimes challenging. For 7 years of marriage the themes are copper or wool.

This year we bypassed the theme. The irony of our gift giving is that we must be compatible, we each gave each other the same gift. Stand up paddle surf lessons. You know you are synchronized when you purchase the other the same gift.

For me, an anniversary or birthday is a great excuse to pour thru the recipe books, looking for that perfect menu. I would much rather cook a nice meal than go out to a fancy restaurant.

Last week, I purchased a tart pan. I have been wanting one forever, but never got around to buying one. I am sure part of the reason, is that I am horrible at making pastry.

As soon as I brought it home, I knew it would be christened with a lemon tart. Out came the recipe books, onto the internet I went, in search for the perfect tart recipe. Who else to turn to, but Pierre Herme for a lemon tart recipe. I must confess that I have never eaten a tart from his pastry shop. But I knew I wanted my tart recipe to come from a Parisian pastry shop. It would be the perfect anniversary dessert. The tart was delicious.

To quote from his cookbook, "Lemon Tarts sparkle from every Paris pastry shop window, but tarts with sparkle that's more than glaze-deep are rare. Pierre's impeccable lemon cream, the one that's easy to make, hard to resist, and impossible to improve upon." I could not describe the tart any better. Granted, my lemon tart was made with love, but it could not be improved upon.

There are just two of us in the house and I am proud to say we finished the tart within 3 days. What do you expect when you are recreating a Pierre Herme recipe? The man has customers lined out his store.



Here is the recipe. The only change that I would do, is I would add less butter to the tart mixture. Not that it tastes of too much butter, I am just not sure that this much butter is required.

LEMON TART RECIPE by Pierre Herme

The Crust

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar sifted
1/2 cup lightly pack ground blanched almonds
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until creamy. Add the sugar almonds, vanilla and eggs and still working o low speed, beat to blend the ingredients, scraping down the paddle and the sides of the bowl as needed. the dough may look curdled-that is fine. with the machine still on low, add the flour in three or four additions and mix only until the mixture comes together to form a soft, moist dough-a matter of seconds. Do not overdo it.

Side tips:work the mixture as little as possible so that you will get a nice rumbly texture. If everything seems mixed but you still have a few large pieces of butter it is best to leave them.

To shape the dough, gather it into a ball and divide it into three or four pieces, three pieces for 10 1/4 inch tarts, four for 8 3/4 inch tarts. Gently press each piece into a disk and wrap each one in plastic. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to two days before rolling and baking. I find that I need to let the dough sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before rolling it out.

LEMON CREAM

1 cup sugar
zest of three lemons-finely chopped
4 large eggs
3/4 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 4 or 5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Put a saucepan of water over heat and bring the water to a simmer. Place the sugar and lemon zest in a large metal bowl that can be fitted into the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy, and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs and then the lemon juice.

2. Fit the bowl into the pan of simmering water (making certain that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl). Cook, stirring with a whisk, until the cream thickens and reaches 180 F, as measured on an instant-read thermometer. As you cook the cream, whisking all the while to keep the eggs from overheating and scrambling, you will see that at first the cream is light and foamy, then the bubbles get larger, and finally, as the cream starts to thicken the whisk leaves tracks. Keep whisking, keep checking the temperature and ensure that there is water still left in the simmering pan.

3. Pull the cream from the heat as soon as it is cooked and strain it into the container of a blender or food processor, or into a clean bowl large enough in which to beat it with an immersion blender. (Oops I missed the part altogether) Let the cream sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

4. Working with the blender on high sped, beat the cream while adding the pieces of butter, about five at at time. Scrape down the sides of the container or bowl as needed. When all the butter has been incorporated, continue beating the cream for another 3-4 minutes-extra insurance for a light and perfectly smooth lemon cream.
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