English

Croque-madames with Swiss Cheese and Dijon Mustard

Every once in awhile, someone will comment that they, “haven’t seen any new recipes on the food blog in awhile” – and I sheepishly look anywhere but in their eyes when I explain that I let scratchbatch slip off to the sidelines while I did “more important things.”  I’ve been cooking like the rest of us, but finding the moments to record those kitchen expeditions somehow became increasingly difficult.

In the time that’s elapsed since I discussed scones in all their glory, I have written many papers, earned a degree, lived abroad, and returned home.  With time on my side and a desire to jump back into my little culinary universe, I thought a second attempt to rejoin the blogosphere might not be such a bad idea.  To get back in the groove, I’ve got an easy and deliciously messy sandwich suggestion that might just redefine your concept of “breakfast for dinner.”  I present to you:  the croque (et oui, with a French name, it sells better !) or upscale, reinvented grilled cheese.

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Perhaps this is a surprising choice – why make something that might equate diner food ?  The answer is fairly simple: it’s easy and you almost always have the ingredients hiding in the fridge to make it.  The other evening, I was sitting with the living room with my parents.  My mom looks up from her computer, pouts a little, and starts to brainstorm what to have for dinner.  A certain paresse has prevented any new groceries from entering the premises and creativity will therefore play a large role in whatever dish we dream up to devour.  Mom whines, “I have all this cheese just sitting in the fridge and I don’t know what to do with it !   Hey, maybe we can have grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner!”

I wasn’t impressed or tempted by the idea of hot soup on a hot night.  Voicing my opinion, we somehow started discussing the croque madames we’d eaten in France. I thought about it for a moment…when Mom declared, “If you can make it, that would be great !” Dad, behind two pairs of glasses, nodded his consent.

So off to the kitchen I went to make this classic, French-inspired snack.  Any bar/café in France will likely have a croque monsieur or a croque madame on their menu.  It’s standard quick eats, a sort of Frenchie fast-food that may have gained it’s popularity in the Paris of the late 40’s. The essentials stand as such: thick slices of bread, a little béchamel sauce, ham, and melted cheese.  The madame, in somewhat Gallic humor, is topped off with an egg (so named for the hat styles fashionable at the time…though I could think of other reasons…) while the monsieur touts but ham and cheese.

Usually, this sandwich is made with gruyere or emmenthal cheese, but those are less likely to be in an American refrigerator.  I used pecorino/parmesan, swiss, and provolone to great effect.  Don’t let the béchamel scare you off – it’s very easy to make and takes little time.  Put on the Amélie soundtrack, open a red wine, and whip up these fancy (and filling), French-inspired sandwiches.

The sauce: 

– 1 1/2 tbsp butter (unsalted or salted is fine)
– 1 1/2 tbsp flour
– 1 cup milk
– 3/4 cup grated cheese (I used parmesan and a little swiss)
– Salt and pepper to taste
– A few sprinkles of nutmeg

NB: Have the milk and cheese at the ready before beginning the sauce.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.

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Add the flour and cook, whisking, until smooth and lightly browned. It’s important to incorporate the flour and the butter; the flour will be the thickening agent for the béchamel sauce. You also want it to change color (becoming somewhat golden in hue) in order to remove some of the floury flavor. This will all happen fairly quickly, so don’t dawdle and keep mixing !

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Pour in the milk, continuing to mix constantly. Let the mixture come to a boil before reducing the heat until thickened. I usually continue to whisk and before my sauce has begun to fervently bubble, it has adopted the viscosity of molasses (desired).

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Add the cheese by handfuls, mixing until smooth and melted. Taste – if you want more cheese, add it now.

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Season with a little salt, cracked pepper, and nutmeg. Be sure to sample before setting aside.

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The sandwich:

– 6 slices of bread, toasted (I used a multigrain bread but anything that isn’t Wonder Bread should be fine…)
– Coarse-grain Dijon mustard (for spreading)
– 6 slices ham (any cold cut could substitute well)
– 6 slices swiss or provolone
– 3 large eggs

Heat broiler. On a large baking sheet (you may cover with parchment paper if desired – I did not, and had no trouble removing my toasts), place the 6 slices of toast. Spread a generous spoonful of mustard on each slice of bread. If mustard isn’t your favorite condiment, butter is a likely substitute…but really, trust me on the mustard front. It’s delicious). Top each toast with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese. We were cleaning out the fridge, so I did three with swiss and three with provolone. It was so good, I might always do it like that…but you may choose whatever cheese cocktail you like.

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Top each toast with a generous dollop of béchamel sauce. Place tray in oven for 1-3 minutes or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and evenly browned. Please note that it is wise to cover the toasts as completely as possible so as to prevent them from burning when facing the heat of the broiler.

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Remove from oven and get ready to fry some eggs.

Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add salt and pepper to melted butter. Once the pan is hot (I test this by flicking a bit of water at the pan. If it sputters madly, it’s ready to go), crack an egg into the pan. It will cook fast – I like to run the edge of the flipper under the egg about midway through the cooking process to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the whites are set but the yolk is still runny…maybe 3 minutes in the pan. If you prefer the over-easy approach, go for it.

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Assembly:

I placed ours on a bed of greens (like arugula) but one may just as easily leave those out. Take one toast and place it on the plate. Top it with a second toast. Just as the egg is cooked, place it on top of the sandwich and devour right away !

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The best part is watching the yolk drip down over the combination of melted cheese, bread, and béchamel. Bon appetite !

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Chocolate Chunk Scones with Raspberry Swirl

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7:30am.  The alarm goes off.  “BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP” followed by “bebebeBEEP bebebeBEEP bebebeBEEP bebebebebebeBEEEEEEP” and then the humming of my roommate’s generic iphone guitar strum and then, finally my little dumbphone’s contribution to the matinal symphony: BUZZZZZ…BUZZZZZ…BUZZZZZ….(love meeeee, says the Envy2 LOVE MEEEEEEE).  Banging these devices any number of times, I open my eyes and proceed to poke the top mattress of our bunk bed. “wakey wakeyyy meowww…” poke poke poke.

Roommate is not nearly as amused by the morning cacophony as I am.  I’m greeted with a groan. “Noooooooooo” goes the grumpy cat.

Mornings are rough.

As she finally scrambled down from her perch on high, I began the process of getting up out of bed and making the most exciting decision of the morning: breakfast !

It’s Saturday and I don’t want cereal.  Or a bagel.  Toast is a definite no.  Don’t even think about oatmeal.  Definitely not having yogurt.

I want a real, old-time, well-prepared, rejoice-in-the-fact-it’s-Saturday breakfast. That means baked goods AND, upon examining the dwindling supply of groceries…something creative.  I saw chocolate chunks.  I saw baking goods.  I had some raspberry jam in the fridge.  Put it all together and…scones had to be the answer.  After a little googling, I settled on this recipe from The Joy of Baking, one of my favorite baking websites.  I’ve added some spices and substituted jam for fresh berries (the grand scheme all along, of course), but the recipe is mostly intact and, after having devoured two in rapid succession, provides a delicious breakfast dish.  I paired it with some cheesy grits and a fried egg, but all the loving these scones need is a cup of something warm and an open weekend morning…that doesn’t need to begin as early as mine did.  Happy nibbling !

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Ingredients:

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt (if using salted butter, skip added salt)
6 tbsp butter, cold and chopped
1/2 cup chocolate chunks (more are fine 🙂 )
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
4 tbsp raspberry jam
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg, beaten
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg

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In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices and stir to incorporate.  I really enjoy cinnamon and nutmeg with flavors like chocolate, but adding these is not obligatory in any fashion.

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Add the cold butter to the flour.  Using a pastry blender (or your hands – either works fine), work the butter into the flour.  This will take a little bit of time, but be patient.  If you are using your hands, make sure you start with really cold butter.  The warmth of your hands will affect how much flour the butter is able to “absorb,” so to speak.  If the butter absorbs too much flour, the consistency of the final product will be slightly off…no real harm done (whew !) but if you want a “true” scone consistency, don’t work that buttah too much, honey.   The final product should have the texture of crumble – if you squish it, it will keep a basic shape, but upon touching it again will crumble into DUST.  POOF !

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To this mixture, add the chocolate chunks.  Give them a good stir to coat them in the crumble combination.  Once coated, make a chasm (that word has such presence…I definitely need a deep voice to deliver it with full force) in the flour mixture.

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In another bowl, combine the yogurt, egg, and vanilla.  Whisk well to combine.

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Pour the egg mixture into the hole made in the flour.  Stir with a fork to incorporate, somewhat.  Add the jam and stir until the dough just comes together – the mixture will be thick – that’s okay.  You don’t want to mix it too much or the dough will be chewy and tough.

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Once the batter just holds together, turn it out onto a well-floured surface.   Form the dough into a circle and cut the circle into triangles to place upon a prepared baking sheet.

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Cook for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Mine are a little more than golden brown BECAUSE my broiler is a little wonky.  If desired, you may dust the scones with powdered sugar and broil them for about 10 seconds to give them a nice crust.  Mine stayed in a touch too long but are none the worse for wear (or taste) !

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Enjoy with a cup of java or tea or simply with your breakfast.  Bon appétit ! 🙂

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Plum Tart with Greek Yogurt

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Fall is in full swing and in this swanky apartment we’re eating…PLUMS !

I know, I know…plums ?  Aren’t you supposed to be making pumpkin-themed everything ?

Yes yes, plums !  Pumpkin is so passé* – everyone is devouring pumpkin goods.  Time to give those plums a little lovin’ !  Perhaps this post of positively pleasant “P” sounds presents a perfect place for plum pizzazz !

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In any case, it is true that plum season extends into early fall – October – and I am, for the first time, taking advantage of this fact.  I used to dislike plums.  Well, perhaps dislike isn’t the proper term.  Ignore may be a better one.  Plums were, in a word, strange. Why ?  Because they morph into prunes, that’s why.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat either fruit.  It was strange, therefore, when I walked into Trader Joe’s, saw a “basket” of plums looking for a home, felt spontaneous and snatched them up and POW a memory popped in my head:  for my birthday, while in France forever ago, my host dad, Pierre, made me a birthday dessert. Considering my host family and I were not particularly chummy, I was very touched by the gesture.  A beautiful, rustic plum tart sat in front of me, paired with a book about Dijon.  I can’t believe I’d buried that memory so deep, and it took a basket of unassuming plums to trigger it.

So then I had it.  The IDEA.  I would make a plum tart for my birthday…hence, here is my birthday “cake” thrown together with little time to spare before a 20s’-themed bash !  As you can tell, from the top picture, it was devoured in record time.  It’s a quick fix (if you buy your crust, and I did…I know, tsk tsk) that is pleasantly tart and lightly spiced.  This recipe uses a Greek yogurt “custard” topping, but I think, were I to remake it (and there are still a few dusty plums kicking around my cuisine…) I would skip the cream and make the tarte tout simplement avec des prunes.

I used the recipe from Mary Anna Esposita, the woman who taught me more about tomatoes via her great cooking show “Ciao Italia” than I think I needed to know as an 8 year-old.

Here’s the original recipe; the one noted below is with my adjustments.
Ingredients :
7 plums, cut into slices
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Sprinkle ginger
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup greek yogurt (plain)
3 tbsp additional sugar
Preheat the oven to 400F.  If you are making your own crust – you are fabulous and better than me this go around.  Prepare the crust and place it in a greased tart pan (or pie dish, or quiche pan – whatever you have will probably do).  I’d give the crust a little toast before placing the plums, but it is not required and the tart will not combust or fail to cook in time if you don’t.
Slice the plums into fairly thin sections – I made mine into little segments (like a fan, kind of) in order to make the tart look nice.  You are welcome to cut the plums in a less careful manner and throw them in the pan.  Taste will not be affected.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  Right ?  Right.
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Arrange the plums in concentric circles (if desired) in the bottom of the pie pan.  I started in the “middle” and worked my way out.
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In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and the spices, stirring well to combine.
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Dust the plums with the sugar mixture – don’t be afraid to really bury them !  As the plums cook and release water, it will mix with the sugar combination to make this wonderful caramel-like substance at the bottom of the tart.  It’s delicious with ice cream.  Yummmmmm.  Top with the juice of the lemon – I just gave that citrus fruit a good squeeze directly overtop the plum and sugar combination.
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Place this in the oven until the plums are soft – about 10 minutes – then remove from the oven.  You are WELCOME to just eat this as your tart and not continue.  It looks so good, I have half a mind to try it like this with my remaining plums….
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In another bowl, whisk together the 3 tbsp of sugar, egg yolks, and yogurt.  Pour this mixture over the tart, being sure to work from the inside out and try to evenly distribute the custard.  Place the tart back into the oven and cook for about 10 more minutes or until the custard has set- you should be able to touch the top and pull a little of the custard out on your finger.  It’s sort of in a semi-solid state.
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Let the tart cool a little before serving to your hungry party guests !
Bon appétit ! 🙂
*I hold nothing against pumpkin goods…in fact, I’ve been cooking them a lot.  I just wanted to be DIFFERENT.
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Banana Bread

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What do little Italian men love most of all ?

Really though, what do you think ?

Perfume ?   Pasta ?  Wine…breadsticks…music…candlelight…Milan….

Well, no.  I hate to break it to you, but the real way to the heart of a wee italian man is with BANANA BREAD.  Yes, Petri, this one’s for you.

For the past month and a half (give or take), we’ve had the pleasure of hosting the famous Petri Dish in our apartment.  I arrived in late August, mentally preparing myself for a semester of ESTROGEN when POP !  Out of nowhere this charismatic, loud, and endearing italiano appeared on the scene, fully moved in (yes, toothbrush and all).  Skeptical at first (a who living in my what ?!), Petri quickly grew on me.  He is a walking party and always greets me with a “Hello Lizzzzzz, how are you ?” spoken as if my answer is actually important (Petri, if it isn’t important, don’t tell me.  I want to continue romanticising you).

It is slightly intimidating, living with an italian, because they cook so well.  Sometimes, I would come home from class and the apartment would smell divine – Petri was making homemade vegetable broth, a smell I associate with home.  (To my credit, I insisted on bay leaf usage.  This little american lends a hand every now and then).  I watched him make pasta, pasta, pasta, risotto, pasta, pasta and tiramisù.  Being the fellow chef in the kitchen, it was fun to have some cooking banter flying about this college setting.

At one point, Petri revealed his love (obsession ?) with banana bread, which surprised me.  Often, Europeans are “not convinced” of putting fruits/vegetables in quickbreads (carrots, zukes, sweet potato, banana, pumpkin…) as it just seems contrary to tradition.  Or something.

I decided that before he left, I’d make him banana bread.  I think it’s safe to say my bread passed muster.  Pietro, we’re going to miss you !  Here’s the recipe I used (and perhaps you’ll woo an italian, too) !

Petri’s Banana Bread

1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp cream (or buttermilk, or greek yogurt, or sour cream)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
Dash cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves.  Just a sprinkle.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease or line the bottom of a standard loaf pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.  I prepared two but only used one (not enough time to cook a double batch !)

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Peel the bananas and place them in a large bowl.  Mash with a fork (or a masher) until nice and squishy – it will look rather disturbing as a texture – you want the lumps no bigger than chickpeas.

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Add the sugar and the oil to the mashed bananas, whisking to combine.  I will admit, the batter for banana bread is probably the most disgusting thing you’ll ever see.  Persevere, because it tastes awesome when cooked.

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Add the eggs and vanilla, whisking again to incorporate.

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In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Stir together to combine – you wouldn’t want random patches of baking soda, would you ?  So give it a good stir.

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Add the flour mixture and the cream (or dairy product of choice…) and mix well – the batter shouldn’t have any flour clumps hiding about.

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Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 1h20 minutes – it takes a long time to cook, but you’ll know it’s almost done when the top splits.  Let cool 10 minutes before removing from the loaf pan.

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Feed to your favorite [italian] housemate(s) and buon appetito !  🙂

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Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Well, it happened.  I’m a senior, wading through my final year of university, and joys of syllabus week are, alas, but wee specks in the my rearview mirror.  Homework, late nights, and crunchy leaves pretty much mean that I should be  putting “ma main à la pâte” in a figurative sense…however all I seem to do is literally put my hand to the dough and whip up the fall classic – chocolate chip cookies.

I think I learned how to cook making these cookies.  My mom would let me measure the chocolate chips.  Well, I don’t know if she let me, or if I just did it…because let’s face it, who doesn’t want to sample those delicious morsels of cacao bean delight ?  Also, a five-year-old can’t really mess up that part of the cookie making…unless she eats too many chips…whoops.

Once I’d mastered that, I could  pack down the brown sugar…add the white sugar…even (eventually) measuring out enough flour (“Liz, fill it to the top of the P” – we had Pyrex 2-cup measuring cups, and I suppose the top of the P was approximately 2 1/4 cups of flour…) for the recipe.  We had (and still have) this rickety metal stepladder on which I’d place the ingredients I’d measured…and then I’d (of course) climb on it to watch all the ingredients go swirling, whirling, twirling around in the MixMaster (Kitchenaid, for those those versed in proper kitchen vocab).  The best part came when I could sample the dough.

I don’t think anything tops cookie dough batter.  I always wanted to just nibble it raw…but mom would chide, “No Liz !  There are raw eggs in there !  You could get sick !”

She is probably right, but when I make it all on my lonesome, I’m not going to lie, I take a hearty nibble-nom-nom out of whatever “pâte” I’ve put my “main” in.

This recipe is a little bit different than your back-of-the-chocolate-chip-bag variation BUT I think it’s the secret to the perfectly balanced SUPERCOOKIE : add molasses.  It sounds surprising, however the molasses renders the cookie soft and “nuanced,” to borrow some wine-bottle diction.  Just trust me, expert choco-chip cookie master since the age of 5.  Get out of class, whip these up, and forget about your application woes while munching on this old-school afternoon snack.  🙂

Ingredients :

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt (only add if using unsalted butter)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter; softened
1 cup brown sugar; packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 bag (12 oz approx.) chocolate chips (you can feel this one out – if you want less, just add bit by bit)

Start by creaming the butter in a large mixing bowl.  If you have an electric mixer, go ahead and fire it up.  If not, get ready to whisk like it’s your job.  You want to make sure the butter is nice and uniform so that the sugar will mix in evenly.  Also, the softening of the butter allows more sugar/ingredients to “dissolve” into the fat, making for a smoother, creamier batter.  (“Liz, soften the butter” “Mom, how ?”  “In the microwave.”  “Mom, what if I melted some of it…”)

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Fun fact courtesy of the padre: if your butter didn’t get soft enough, wrap a warm towel around the mixing bowl.  This will help the butter to soften – it’s particularly effective with a metal mixing vessel.

When the butter is light and the whisk/beaters make pretty swirly shapes in the mixture, begin to add the brown sugar.  Beat until the mixture lightens in color.  Add the white sugar and the molasses, beating again until lightened in color.  It should look like very grainy buttercream frosting.  Scrape down the side with a spatula, and mix once again.  (“Mom, can I taste it?”  “Liz, it’s just sugar and butter !  You already know what that tastes like !”)

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Add the vanilla to the eggs, dropping them in one by one (“Liz, I never add the eggs one by one, it takes too long. I just throw them in there with the vanilla”) beating after each addition.  You can skip this step, as my mom always does, but I like to beat them in one by one – I get to personally make sure each one gets whipped into shape.

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In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon – stirring well to incorporate evenly.  Carefully add this to the butter mixture (“Liz, don’t add it so fast !  You’re going to make a mess !”), reducing the mixer speed or using a spatula to combine.  If you go too quickly, the flour will explode in your face and probably make you sneeze.  It’s not worth it.  Take your time AND as an added bonus, play this game :  How little flour/mess can you make in the kitchen ?  It’a really fun game – and worthwhile, too !  Why ?  Because it’s less to clean up later, silly !  Oh, I am brilliant at times.  🙂

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Finally, add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.

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Mommmmm, can I taste it now ??”

Yes, yes yes yes.  Take a nice good sample of your cookie dough, for this is, arguably, the best part.

On a large cookie sheet, drop the batter by tablespoons full (“I never bother with spoons, I just sort of eyeball it and use my fingers”) and shape into balls.  I use a big spoon and my fingers and just try to make sure each cookies is approximately the same size.  I really wouldn’t fuss over the size of your balls (“…”) and just have fun plopping misshapen cookie blobs on the baking sheet.  Make sure they are spaced about 2 inches apart from each other, as these cookies like to spread out.

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Cook for about 12 minutes per sheet, or until a nice golden brown.  “Light and gooey and yummy and chewy,” as my sibling and I would chant. We take cookies seriously in this household….and this apt.

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Remove and let cool on a rack (if you can wait that long) or place directly on a plate and devour immediately !

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Happy munching, and bon appétit ! 🙂

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Three-layer Peach, Raspberry and Brown Sugar Pavlova

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One would have no idea summer is winding down here in D.C.  The heat and humidity loping through the campus turn us all lethargic and in need of a dunk in the ocean.  Alas, schoolwork and projects beckon, and rather than exercise my need for R&R, I’ve settled on food as an escape.

Not entirely surprising, is it ?

In any case, PEACHES have been my ambroisia of oubli, and with a weekly farmer’s market, they aren’t difficult to procure.  Most recently, I re-made Nora Ephron’s Peach Pie (click the link for the recipe), and it disappeared in a day.  This is the problem with having roommates: as the cook, you want to share !  But BAMPOOFPOW – it’s all gone !  It’s definitely “bittersweet,” shall we say.  In any case, before I left my little town, I attended our local peach festival (yes, we have one of those) with a friend of mine.  While picking peaches, I declared that I would make SOMETHING with these gems that wasn’t a peach pie.  This mixed fruit pavlova is the “fruit” of said declaration.

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert that is very light and fruity.  Because it’s all egg whites, there is no added fat (eg butter/oil), so if you are “reducin’,” as my grandmother would say, it’s a nice choice for dessert.  Each pancake of meringue sits on a bed of whipped cream (you don’t need this part if you’re not partial to chantilly) and cut fruit (such as mixed berries, peaches, nectarines, plums, etc).  Rather like a trifle, this dessert needs to be eaten the night you prepare it, or else it will get soggy.  It’s an excuse to devour an entire treat in one sitting…right ?  And it’s covered in fruit !  Fruit is healthy !

Grab some peaches before the season really ends and whip up (literally) this lesser-known dessert as one final tribute to the groove of summer.

For the meringue :

Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp distillled white vinegar
3/4 cups egg whites (5 to 6 large eggs)

Directions :  Preheat the oven to 275F with rack placed in the middle of the oven.  Line three 8” round cake pans with parchment paper, dusting the sides with confectioners’ sugar.

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Pulse the sugar, brown sugar, and constarch in a food processor until well combined.  You can also whisk these ingredients together if you, like me, are often sans fancy kitchen appliances.

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Stir together the vanilla and white vinegar.  Don’t smell it…you won’t be pleased.

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Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer (or your brute strength, however you like) until they hold soft peaks.  Increase the speed to medium-high and add the sugar mixture 1 tbsp at a time.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect tbsp – think of that measurement as a speedbump – as you just don’t want to add the sugar too quickly.

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After all the sugar has been incorporated, beat for 1 minute more.  Add the vinegar mixxture, then beat at high speed until meringue is glossy and holds stuff peaks: about five minutes.  Spoon meringue into pans and smooth the tops.  I used a pastry bag, but this is not at all necessary (unless you feel like a perfectionist).

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Bake the meringues until they have a crisp crust and feel dry to the touch – about 1 hour.  Meringues may sink while cooling – but have no fear !  It just means more space for berries and cream !

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Turn oven off, prop door open with a wooden spoon (or ruler tool), and cool the meringues for 1 hour in the oven.  You want to keep them in a dry environment so that they don’t go all soggy…and the oven is the closest thing to the desert one has in a kitchen….except maybe for the brisker, but everyone knows briskers often carry a strange scent after re-crisping one too many boxes of crackers.

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Run a knife around the edges of the cake pans and remove gently.  MERINGUES ARE FRAGILE.  BE CAREFUL.  (But not too careful…because who doesn’t love to mop up the crumbs ?)

For the fruit topping :

2 white peaches
2 golden peaches
1-2 cups raspberries
1 cup blueberries (if desired)
A little liqueur – I like “peche” but cassis, chambord/framboise or a blueberry syrup would be delicious as well.  Do not add sugar to the berries if you use a “berry” sweet liqueur (Brian, that one is for you).

This part is really quite simple:  Peel the peaches (if desired) and cut them into sections.

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You don’t need to cut them into smaller chunks, but I did simply because it makes the fruit more uniform.  Place into a bowl and add the raspberries and blueberries.  Give it a quick stir and drizzle some liqueur over the top, if desired.

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For the whipped cream:

1 1/3 cups heavy cream
Sugar (just a tablespoon or two will do)
Vanilla – a dash

Whisk until thick, creamy, billowy, delicious, and…well…whipped !  I used an electric mixer and added the sugar just as the cream began to thicken.

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Assembly :

Start by placing one layer of meringue on your cake plate.  Place it flat side down – this will ensure overall stability of the pavlova palace you are about to craft.

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On top of this, spread a nice layer of whipped cream.  Top with berries (I forgot this step !)

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Place the next layer of meringue on top and follow the same pattern : whipped cream followed by fruit.

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Serve very soon after preparation as those meringues won’t last long surrounded by fruits.  It may not be the most elegant dessert, but it is marvelously tasty.

Bon appétit ! 🙂
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Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lemon Ginger Scones

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Well, it seems like time has gotten away from me.  Skittered,  Scattered. Slunk.
You know what hasn’t seemed to disappear, however ?
The heat.
The past, oh I don’t know, week or so has been hot and humid in my neck of the woods.  Every morning, walking to work (after the car and train ride, I might add), I am just covered in an unhappy film of dog day perfume: perspiration.  In such oppressive heat and humidity, nobody wants to cook.  In my house, we’ve been creating cold salads, grilling often, and even toasting breakfast outside in an effort to keep the oven dormant and cold.

Yes, I am using the heat as an excuse for my miserable updating skills.  As a result, in celebration of this lovely, cool evening, I’m adding a fabulous morning treat otherwise entitled “Lemon Ginger Scones.”  Around here, we don’t have a lot of entertainment…trees, birds, boats, testing pontoons in a pool…maybe not that last one, but the novelty of going to the General Store for breakfast never seems to wear off.  What to order ?  Scones.  Scones scones scones scones.  And a cappuccino (if you’re me; others prefer americanos).  In any case, it dawned on me that while I will always love the 2 mile trek down the road, making my own scones is also an option.

Therefore, when my mom showed up with a bag of candied ginger, we were off to the races.  These scones are aromatic and spicy with an almost-authentic texture thanks to the use of plain yogurt.  You cannot make these without real, candied ginger.  It will not taste the same.  Go on, take a risk and purchase this odd ingredient because its presence adds fabulous bursts of flavor in every bite of scone.  It also pairs fantastically with coffee, a fried egg, and perhaps some cheesy grits.

Ingredients :

2 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp lemon zest + the juice of a lemon
1/2 tsp lemon extract (if you are lemon fans)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, frozen and chopped
4 1/2 oz candied ginger (about 2/3 cup), chopped into small chunks
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Using a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flour, sugar and barking powder.  Pulse on low to incorporate.  If you don’t have a food processing machine, it’s okay – just use a spoon to mix together these three ingredients.

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Add the lemon zest, butter, lemon juice and extract.  Pulse on and off, until the mixture is pale yellow and crumbly – you should be able to press it between your fingers and it will make a loose ball. If  you are without a mixer, just knead the butter in with your hands – the heat from your fingers will render the butter easier to work with, but be sure to begin with VERY COLD BUTTER.  If it warms up too much, it will change the texture of the scone and the consistency of the batter.

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Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the ginger.  In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and the cream, stirring to make a smooth mixture.  Make a well in the ingredients; pour the dairy into the flour combo and stir with a spoon or your hands – whatever you prefer.  I like to get messy in the kitchen, so I’ll use my natural appendages to mix, but don’t hesitate to use a little tool here and there.

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Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.  Roll out until it’s about 3/4 of an inch thick.  Cut into rounds – just as I did for the strawberry shortcakes, I used a glass to make nice circles to great effect.  Place into a greased baking sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart from each other.

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Brush the tops with cream, drizzle with some raw sugar if you so desire, and bake for about 14 minutes or until just beginning to brown.

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Devour with a hot cup of coffee and a beautiful summer morning.  Bon appétit !

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Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Goat Cheese and Figs

[^that title is quite the mouthful, but any other description escapes me.]

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It has come to my attention that my blog has turned into a bakery.  I love bakeries.  Bakeries are great places, full of fun smells, bright colors, and lots of flour.

But you can’t really live off of bakeries.  Eating only bread and cookies doesn’t really get one very far.  So, in an effort to change things up a bit, here’s a savory dish I discovered while perusing Epicurious, that fabulous anthology of recipes that has yet to fail me.

A common complaint from the familial peanut gallery lies in the abundance of chicken dishes that grace the kitchen table.  We seem to eat only chicken with the occasional night of RED MEAT (ooooooo).  Indeed, we are still a carnivorous household despite a lot of societal pressures to go vegetarian.  When these grumbles arise, I often suggest pork…the “other white meat.”  I’ve always liked pork; my family, however, never got on the hog wagon and it’s a battle to convince madre to purchase a tenderloin.

This go around, I seem to have worn down the ranks and upon pitching my recipe suggestion, the parents ran off to purchase fresh figs, a first for us, and a nice pork tenderloin for grilling.  Something about the combination of sweet from the figs and honey to the savory from the goat cheese, pork, and aromatic rosemary must have piqued the interest of a few finicky Froths.  This recipe is probably the easiest recipe around for summer as you just need a grill to make it a reality.  Oil up the figs and meat, place on grill, cook, cut, drizzle with honey, and eat….rather like this.

Ingredients:

One (1 to 1 1/4 pounds) pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fine kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
12 small ripe figs
Goat cheese
Honey
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (I only had dried…oh well !)

Crank up the grill and get it very hot.  For this, I enlisted my dad, as he is known as the grillmaster of the house.  It’s also nice to shoo him outside every once in awhile…but shh, don’t tell him.  Back in the kitchen, bush the tenderloin with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Bring out to the grill when ready.

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Rinse the figs and pat dry. Pierce the figs through the middle with a metal skewer – do not peel.  Lightly brush the figs with olive oil and season with a little coarse salt.

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Place the pork tenderloin directly over the fire. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side (the center-cut pork loin filet for 5 to 7 minutes per side), turning a quarter turn at a time, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 140°F for medium and the meat is juicy and slightly pink in the center.  (This is what the original recipe says – we cooked it longer). If you have a nice cut of meat and you know it is FRESH FRESH FRESH and from a happy hog, I’d say follow the directions and embrace a pinker meat.


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At the same time, place the skewered figs over the fire, turning several times and cooking for about 5 to 6 minutes until they are heated through. When they’re caramelized and soft, remove the skewers from the heat and keep warm.  I just poked them and when they were squishy and smelled like slightly burnt sugar, we placed them on a platter.

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Let the pork rest for about 5 minutes, and then cut on the diagonal into 1- to 2-inch-thick slices.  Unless you’re impatient…

To serve, alternate between pieces of pork and goat cheese, with the figs on the side.  Drizzle a liberal amount of honey over the platter (believe me, you won’t regret this decision to be generous with this honeybee glory) and top with a few shakes of dried rosemary.

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For dinner, we served it with quinoa and arugula salad.  All the elements worked nicely together: the pork, fig, and goat cheese combination is sweet and is therefore nicely contrasted by the bitter and peppery arugula.  Quinoa, as a side, adds texture and serves as a palate for the softer components of the dish.   All in all, a fabulous meal.

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Bon appétit !

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Strawberry Shortcakes

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While at school, I happened to have coffee with a professor (on multiple occasions, as she always manages to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step regardless of pre-existing grumbles).  As we plowed through a myriad of different conversation topics, we fell upon cooking.  In a wonderfully kind and enormously appreciated gesture, this professor [knowingly] enabled my procrastination abilities and handed me a tote bag full of old Cook’s Illustrated magazines, sticky-noted with suggestions and recipes that she uses for her family.

Needless to say, I was in heaven.  (Still am, actually…definitely a good example of the imperfect tense in French – not only an emotion, but a state that began in the past and continues to the present.  Merci à vous, chère prof extraordinaire !)

Cook’s Illustrated is a fantastic review of recipes published after immense scrutiny.  As a result, the recipes that make the cut are polished and often foulproof.  Furthermore, the pages include scientific reasons why certain ingredients fail and other succeed – handy to note if ever one needs to do a little ingredient switcheroo.

Bref, upon hitting these “lazy” summer months, I’ve been reading through these Cooks Illustrated like it’s my job…which it isn’t…but that’s alright !  In so doing, I’ve copied multiple recipes including this fabulous strawberry shortcake concoction from the 1997 May/June issue.  I’ve made shortcakes before, but they never have quite the proper consistency.  This go-around, I was pleased to discover a nice, scone-like shortcake that was so easy to make, the dessert was ready in under an hour (20 minute prep, 20 minute cook/cool).  For a family that loves spontaneous sweets morning, noon, and night, a quick fix is a popular one.

June is strawberry time in MA, and we’ve been nibbling on native berries that are small but incredibly sweet.  Whip up (or roll out) some shortcakes while this fruit is still in season !

Topping :

3 pints strawberries (Mash 1 pint, quarter the other two)
6 tbsp sugar (optional !  If those strawberries are really fresh, just add 1-2 tbsp)
Squeeze of lemon if desired.

Wash the berries and pat them dry.  The recipe divides them by pints, but I just did it by handful – one handful of mashed berries to two handfuls of intact berries.  I don’t have a way to measure a pint in the kitchen, so I rely on my eyeballs.  Mash the berries with a fork – they don’t need to be beaten into a pulp, just macerated enough to release some of the juices and make a faux (well, fausse) sauce.

For the “intact” berries, hull and quarter them.  Hulling is very easy – pull back the stem, run the knife around the center of the berry, making a cone shape, then pull it out and discard.

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Cut the berry into quarters, put in a bowl with the sugar (as little or as much as you prefer – I didn’t need much due to the freshness of the berries).

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A little lemon juice is pleasant as well, as is Grand Marnier liqueur. Let this sit while you prepare the shortcakes.

Shortcakes :

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar; 2 tbsp for sprinkling (5 total)
1 stick butter, frozen
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cups + 1 tbsp half and half
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 425F.  In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and 3 tbsp sugar.  Mix together to evenly distribute the ingredients.  Set aside.

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Grab that stick of FROZEN butter.  Using a large cheese grater, grate the butter onto a plate (or directly into the dry ingredients, if you are strong enough to do so.  I am a weakling and cannot grate while holing our [broken] grater).  I put a plate or a paper towel on top of the counter and therefore grate straight up and down rather then on an angle.  I found it was easier to do it this way, if not simply for the well-being of my whisk-worn wrists.  Toss the butter curls into the flour mixture.

If you don’t have a grate, fear not !  Simply cut the butter into small, workable pieces and mix them into the flour mixture.

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Using your hands, work the butter into the flour until it forms large clumps and resembles cornmeal…or almond flour.  You should be able to squish the dough between your fingers and it will momentarily keep its shape.

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Mix the beaten egg with half and half; pour it into the flour mixture.  I made a hole in the dry ingredients and emptied the egg combo into the center of the flour, then mixed with a fork.  Stir until large clumps form.

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Turn mixture our onto a floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together – this shouldn’t take long nor a lot of flour – it’s a sticky, soft, loose dough.  Just make sure the countertop is nicely floured and you shouldn’t have any problems.

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Pat dough into a 9-by-6” rectangle (well, that’s rather fussy, isn’t it ?) that is 3/4 inches thick. I would just estimate a nice rectangle that is about the thickness of your pinkie nail.  The cakes will rise in the oven, but not excessively, so keep that in mind when you are patting out the dough.  Cut the dough into 6 rounds (or more, depending on how thick or thin you made your dough).  I used a glass as my “cookie cutter” and it worked perfectly.  Place over the dough, press, turn, and lift – works like a charm.

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Place 1 inch apart on a large baking sheet.  Brush the tops with eggs whites and sprinkle with remaining sugar – if you have turbinado sugar, or raw sugar, I think that would be excellent.

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Bake until golden brown – probably about 12-15 minutes in a hot oven.  Upon removal, let the cakes cool until warm, about 10 minutes.

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To serve, split each cake cross-wise and plop a hearty spoonful of vanilla ice cream in the center.  Spoon berries over ice cream and maybe a little whipped cream, and serve on a back porch on a warm sumer night !

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Bon appétit ! 🙂

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mousse au Frangelico

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I was sitting in the kitchen, contemplating the world (as usual) and of course, attempting to make une décision très importante:  what to have for dessert. Crise existentielle de la journée, as one might say.  Alone, with a kitchen just begging to be used, and a sibling returning soon home from her long day over at the Eric Carle Museum…I felt the pressure.  What to do, what to do.

Hm.  I didn’t have any chocolate chips.
Nor enough oatmeal to make oatmeal scotchies.
Not in the mood for pie.

I could make brownies.  But I don’t want those either.

Then I started thinking…what about mousse ?  It was a beautiful day, mousse doesn’t sound hard, and it’s definitely soemthing new. With a bit of luck, sibling called, saying she would happily pick up some ingredients at a local market before coming home.   With her purchasing whipping cream and some native strawberries (for ’tis the season, so they say), I set about crafting some mousse.

I didn’t want chocolate mousse – too rich and I didn’t have the right chocolate for it.  I thought abotu what goes with cream and ended up with…frangelico !  Frangelico is a lovely hazelnut liqueur that is best served (in my humble opinion) with cold cream.  Best friends with the exotic Kahlua and the reliable Bailey’s, Frangelico is another one of those dessert-type liqueurs that comes in an immediately identifiable bottle and possessing an unforgettable flavor.  It’s refreshing and delicious and just sounded fabulous with strawberries and a little chocolate garnish.  When I googled my concept, however, nothing came up.

Uh-oh.

I’ve never made mousse and apparently, the world hasn’t made frangelico mousse – all I located were chocolate-based recettes.  As a result, I made up my dessert and lucky for me, it turned out splendidly.  Light and creamy from both egg whites and whipped cream, the mousse was a great summer treat and the strawberries, being native, tiny, and adorable (I know a souris who would have loved them) added an excellent tartness to the dish.  I served mine in chocolate cups, but you definitely don’t need to do that – the mousse is delicious as a solo act.

NOTE:  MOUSSE REQUIRES THE USE OF RAW EGGS.  PLEASE USE THE FRESHEST EGGS AVAILABLE TO MAKE THIS DESSERT IN ORDER TO AVOID GETTING SICK.  If you buy pasteurized eggs, which apparently exist, make sure the whites are whippable, as some pasteurized eggs lose the ability to whip due to protein denaturation.

For the mousse :

3 FRESH eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar + 2 tbsp (one for whipping cream, one for egg whites)
3-4 tbsp Frangelico (I did it by taste but I would guess it was about this much)

Start by separating the eggs.  Put the yolks in a large bowl and set the whites aside for the time being.  Grab a whisk and roll up your sleeves – mousse requires some serious mixing skills.  Add the 1/2 cup sugar, butter, and vanilla to the yolks.  Whisk until they thicken and lighten in color (this step is also known as ribboning the eggs – it makes sure the sugar is well distributed throughout the yolks).  Add the frangelico, stir, and taste.  The yolk won’t hurt you – be bold and taste it !  You should be able to taste a burst of hazelnut and a tiny bite of alcohol, but not much.  If you want more, be my guest and get those yolks a little silly !

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In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Add 1 tbsp of sugar and beat again to incorporate, staying at the soft peaks stage.  Set aside.

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In YET ANOTHER bowl, whip the cream until thick and looks like a swirly mountain range.  I used the trusty Sunbeam beater to do this because I didn’t want to whisk by hand and I’d already used BOTH electric mixing bowls.  Kitchen drama.  Add the 1 tbsp sugar, mix again to incorporate, and grab a spatula.

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This next bit is a little delicate.  Start by adding the whipped cream to the yolk mixture.  Using a spatula, fold the cream in carefully – we are trying to increase the volume of the combination.  Don’t over mix – it’s okay if it’s not all incorporated because…

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…we are going to fold AGAIN !  Once all the whipped cream has been added, spoon in the egg whites and continue folding.  When complete, the entire concoction should be very airy, large, and a pale yellow color.  Cover your container and let chill until set – probably a good 4 hours.

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Naturally, we weren’t that patient and ate ours before it had entirely chilled and the sky did not open up nor did the earth quake, so if you are like my sibling and I (two antsy filles with a stubborn sweet tooth), go ahead and indulge early.

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Serve in chocolate cups with chopped strawberries OR on it’s own in a little ramekin OR with a vanilla wafer OR eat it straight out of the bowl.  Bon appétit ! 🙂

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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