Chocolate Tart with Orange Cookie Crust

I had two packages of Swedish orange cookies in my pantry long enough to be weary of staring at them. Knowing that chocolate and orange make a classic pairing, I gambled that a chocolate tart with an orange cookie crust would be a winner.

Butter is a key ingredient in this crust and since I had to melt it, I thought why not make it “browned butter.”  In some recipes you may see it referred to as beurre noisette. Use 3 1/2 ounces of butter for this recipe; not the amount called for in the link.

The brand of cookie I used comes in a 5.25 ounce package.  I tried making the crust with one package but there weren’t enough crumbs to easily form the tart shell. I thought about using graham crackers for the remaining 1 3/4 ounces of cookie crumbs but then decided to follow my original plan and opened the second package.

The key to making this tart shell is patience. It takes some coaxing to get the crumbs to stick to the side. Keep pressing and they will stay put. It can be formed and refrigerated overnight or made and frozen for about 2 hours prior to baking. It bakes off in no-time (okay 10 minutes) which it about the time it takes to make the filling.


For Crust
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups or (7 ounces ounces) crispy orange cookies
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
Zest of one orange, preferably organic

For Filling
1 1/4 cups (10 fluid ounces) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (80% cacao), chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (39% cacao), chopped
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Glaze
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (80% cacao), chopped
1 ounce semisweet chocolate (39% cacao), chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon warm water

Have at hand one 9-inch round fluted tart pan (1-inch deep) with removable bottom.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter (or brown it, if desired) and allow to cool. In the bowl of a food processor using the metal “S” blade, pulverize the cookies until they become crumbs. Add the sugar and zest; then pulse again to combine.  With the machine running pour in the cooled melted butter and pulse to combine. Pour into the tart pan and press evenly around the side of the pan first, about 1/4-inch thick; then press the remaining crumbs evenly on the bottom. Freeze for at least 2 hours or refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Set aside on a cooling rack while making the filling.

Place chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, bring cream to a boil; pour over chocolate and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt and then temper the eggs into the melted chocolate. Pour filling into the crust.

When ready to bake off the tart place a rack in the bottom third of an oven and preheat to 350ºF. Bake until filling is set about 3-inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 20 to 25 minutes. (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Set aside on a cooling rack.

Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Pour over chocolate and stir until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water. Pour glaze over the cooled tart, tilting and rotating so the glaze coats the top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.


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Spring Pea Soup Shooters

Style: "Agfa"

Photo by David Schmit

When I tell friends that I rarely make a recipe more than once, I’m not kidding.  The last time I made this delightful taste of spring was in 2008. I thought it was time to make it again.

At a party, it’s fun served cold in shot glasses with a little crème fraîche floating on top. It will definitely serve a crowd as this recipe make about 2 quarts. The amounts could easily be cut in half which would serve 8 about 1/2 cup servings for a first course.

2 medium leeks
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, divided
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade
3 cups shelled fresh peas or 1 (16-ounce) package frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon basil pesto (optional)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
½ cup crème fraîche, plus more for serving (optional)

Trim off the leek roots and the dark green leaves as they go up the stem. Halve each lengthwise, thinly slice (white and light green part only) and submerge them in a bowl of cold water. Agitate the pieces; then allow any sand to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Carefully lift out the leek slices and place in a colander to drain leaving the sand in the bowl of water.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add the leeks, onion, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and a pinch of pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.

Add the stock, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and additional pepper to your liking and bring to a boil. Add the peas and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the peas are tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the mint leaves, and stir to combine. Let sit uncovered for about 10 minutes.

Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth. To achieve this without making a mess, remove the small cap (the pour lid) from the blender lid and cover the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam to escape and prevents the blender lid from popping off).

Transfer the soup to a clean saucepan (if serving warm) or a heatproof bowl. Stir in the crème fraîche. Taste and season with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice as desired. If serving warm, reheat over low heat.

If serving cold, let cool to room temperature, cover, then refrigerate until cold. Top each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche, if your so inclined.

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Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Quiche

I was recently in Paris scouting out places to take students on a culinary tour to the City of Lights (stay tuned). During the trip I wanted something a little more substantial than just a pain au chocolat for my le petit déjeuner. Okay, so I had a pain au chocolat and a slice of quiche. That slice of delicious was my inspiration after I returned home to make one myself.

I’ve made many a tart dough, tweaking the amount of ingredients here and there but this latest rendition will likely be my go-to tart dough from here on out. It has a tad more flour (1/4 cup) which makes it easier to roll to the correct size for a 9-inch tart shell without forcing it to be rolled too thin.  Also, using half and half instead of water, worked beautifully; and why use water when you can use half and half.

1 large egg yolk
2 – 3 tablespoons half and half, divided
1 ¾ cups (7 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons (2 ½ ounces) very cold butter, unsalted cut into 10 pieces

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons half and half; set aside. Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix. Evenly distribute the pieces of butter over the flour and pulse again (about 5 times) or just until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Remove the lid and pour the egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture. Buzz again until the dough just begins to come together. If it is being stubborn and not wanting to come together pour the additional tablespoon of half and half over the flour mixture and pulse again a couple of times.

Pour the contents onto a clean smooth surface. With the palm of your hand, smear the dough away from you a little at a time. Fold back over with a bench knife. Shape the dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour, or better yet overnight.


Remove the dough from the refrigerator about a half hour prior to proceeding with the recipe. This will allow the dough to become  malleable for easier rolling. Lightly flour a smooth surface and roll dough to about 11- inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick.

Set the dough over a 9-inch removable bottom tart pan; pressing it snugly and firmly into bottom edge and fluted sides to form the tart shell. Refrigerate prepared tart shell while making the filling.



3 ounces pancetta, 1/4-inch dice
2 large yellow onions
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 – 3 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
6 ounces gruyère, grated
5 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
freshly ground black pepper

Set a rack in the oven to the lower third and the temperature to 425°F.

Cut the onions in half through the stem end and peel off the outer layer.  Thinly slice into half moons.

Set a large skillet over a medium fire and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring just until crispy;  using a slotted spoon remove the cooked pancetta to paper toweling to drain; set aside. Pour off all but one tablespoon of fat.

Reduce fire to low and add the onions and bay leaf; stirring often. As the onions cook the sugars begin to caramelize causing them to stick to the skillet. As this happens add a couple of tablespoons of water and continue stirring, scraping up the brown bits (sometimes referred to as “fond”).

Keep stirring and adding a little water (no more than 2 tablespoons at a time) as needed and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. This process will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to allow the onions fully caramelize. When the onions are cooked remove from the fire and discard the bay leaf; set aside.

While the onions are cooking crack the whole eggs into a bowl and whisk in the half and half; set aside.


About 25 minutes prior to the onions being finished, remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and set on a sheet pan. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. (I use 12-inch lengths of chain). Place in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to brown.

Take out of the oven and remove the pie weights and parchment paper.  Spread the caramelized onions evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Distribute the cooked pancetta over the onions along with some of the thyme.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over; then pour in the egg mixture. Sprinkle the top with any remaining chopped thyme.

Return the quiche to the oven and continue baking for another 40-45 minutes or until the top edge is nicely browned and the middle does not jiggle when the pan is shaken.

Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Remove from the tart ring, cut into serving pieces and serve with a green salad or fresh fruit.



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Scottish Shortbread, variation

I posted a recipe for Scottish shortbread around the Holidays back in 2012. Since then I’ve been reading recipes that include rice flour so I thought I’d see if it makes any difference even though I couldn’t find any reason why.

I called my friend Shirley Corriher to ask what the deal was for such an addition. She’s a biochemist and author of BakeWise and CookWise. She said it would make the shortbread more crisp. Sure enough it makes it lighter in texture and has a crisp snap when broken. However, by all means if you don’t have rice flour you can still make delicious shortbread.

1 cup (4 1/2 ounces or 130 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces or 35 grams) rice flour
3 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounce or 35 grams) semolina flour
5 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces or 60 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (*if using salted butter omit the fine sea salt)
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) salted* or unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla, optional

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Have handy a 7- or 8-inch cake ring, springform pan or removable bottom cake pan. If using a springform or cake pan, lightly butter the bottom and line with a round of parchment paper.  If using a cake ring, set it on a parchment lined sheet pan.

Weight or measure the flours, sugar, and salt into a large bowl; whisk to combine.  Cut the butter into 8 or 10 pieces and scatter on top of the flour mixture; pour the vanilla over the mixture as well, if using.  Using your fingers, incorporate the butter and vanilla into the flour mixture until all the ingredients are completely combined and dough comes together when pressed.

Crumble  the dough evenly around the prepared pan or cake ring. Firmly press the dough into the pan with your fingertips.

Prick the dough all over with a fork to prevent it from puffing and bake until the shortbread is golden, about 32 to 38 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool it in the pan (or ring) for about 10 – 15 minutes on a cooling rack. If a cake pan was used, loosen the edges of the shortbread with a sharp knife and carefully turn it out onto a cutting board.

If using a cake ring, loosen and remove the ring while the shortbread is still warm and move to it a cutting board. Cut the round into 8 (or more) wedges using a serrated knife and set on a cooling rack. Store shortbread, well wrapped, for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

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Lemon-Lavender Curd Meringue Tart

IMG_0036I have researched, tested, and tweaked many variations of this recipe with several experts contributing to its success including recipes from David Lebovitz, Dave Blom, Pastry Chef at the Fairmont Sonoma Inn and Spa, and my friend Pierre, who lives in Nice. He gets to pluck lemons off the tree on his terrace, which just happens to overlook the Côte d’Azur.

Before diving in (which is what you’ll want to do after your first bite) here are a few recipe hacks to ensure your tart turns out delicious. 1) Making pastry dough is not an exact science. Adding more or less liquid is determined by the moisture content of the four being used; 2) the curd has gelatin and cornstarch in it and will set-up quickly so be sure the tart shell has been blind baked before you start making the curd; 3) infusing lavender into the curd gives it a delicate floral accent which complements the tartness of the lemon; however, it is totally optional; 4) it’s important to allow the curd to boil for a good minute so that the cornstarch fully cooks. It won’t boil like water, it will be more like bubbling lava; 5) whisk in the “bloomed” gelatin while the curd is hot to that it melts.

Simca’s Pâte Sublime (Delicate Sweet Pastry Dough with Cream)
Yield about 1 ½ pounds pastry dough, enough for two 8 to 9 inch tart shells or 8 individual 3-inch tart rings

9 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 ounce (1/4 cup) cake flour, not self-rising
1/8 ounce (1 teaspoon) baking powder
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
5 ounces (10 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of one medium orange, preferably organic (optional)
4 – 6 tablespoons heavy cream, beaten with 1 large egg yolk*
2 tablespoons orange juice, freshly squeezed (optional)

Place dry ingredients in bowl of a food processor and process 2 seconds to combine.  Evenly distribute the butter around the bowl of the processor and pulse on/off for 8 to 10 seconds (about 20 pulses) or until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.

*If using 2 tablespoons orange juice cut back on the amount of cream by the same amount.   More or less liquid may be needed depending on the amount of moisture already in the flour.

With the processor running, add the egg mixture through the pour-tube and process just until the mixture starts to hold together. Turn the motor off, remove the lid, and pinch the dough with your fingers. If it doesn’t hold together pour another tablespoon of cream (or orange juice) over the mixture and pulse again.

If the dough holds together when pinched turn out onto a floured surface and quickly smear together with the heel of your hand to blend, gathering it back onto itself with a bench knife. If making two tarts, divide it evenly into two disks, otherwise it’s fine leaving it in one disk for the individual tartlets.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 1 hour prior to rolling or up to one day in the refrigerator.  It can also be frozen for up to one month.

If making an 8 or 9-inch tart, roll out one disk of dough in a circle about 1½ inches larger than the tart pan.  Roll the dough over the rolling-pin and unroll on top of the tart pan.  Gently work the dough into the pan pressing the dough up the sides and folding any excess back onto itself.

If making individual tartlets, roll out to about 3/16-inch.  Set a tart ring on the dough and cut around it about 1-inch larger than the ring.  Gently form the dough in the ring. After it is formed, cut off any dough sticking above the ring.


Set on a parchment or Silpat lined sheet pan.  After the tart(s) have been formed, prick them with a fork and place them in the freezer for at least an hour.  As well, once frozen they can be tightly wrapped and kept for up to a month.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the tart(s) with parchment paper and pie weights and cook for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the pie weights and parchment paper and return to the oven for another 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. If the edges start to get too brown, cover the edges with a “pie-shield”, pieces of aluminum foil or an inverted tart ring that is the next size larger.

Lemon-Lavender Curd

4 ounces (8 tablespoons or 130 grams) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
3 egg yolks (from large eggs)
1 gelatin sheet
zest of 2 lemons, organic if possible
3/4 cup (6 1/2 oz/180 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lavender buds (optional)
1 3/4 cups (7 1/2 oz/210 g) powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (5 g) cornstarch
pinch of salt

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and allow to cool.  In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolks; set aside. In another small bowl add the gelatin sheet and submerge in cool water.  Allow to completely soften (to bloom, as they say) about 10 minutes. After it has completely softened pour off some of the water so that it doesn’t disintegrate and set aside.

In the saucepan with the cooled butter add the lemon zest, juice, lavender (if using), powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the beaten eggs.   Place the mixture on a low to medium fire and constantly whisking slowly bring the mixture to a boil.  Allow the curd to boil for about a minute. Remove from the heat.  Squeeze how any remaining water from the “bloomed” gelatin sheet and whisk it into the hot curd mixture.  Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer directly into the blind baked tart shell.

Italian Meringue*

3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
2 egg whites (2 ounces) at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

In a small pot over low heat, combine sugar and water.  Swirl the pot over the burner to dissolve the sugar completely.  Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring.   Increase the heat and boil to 240°F using a candy thermometer to get it right.  Wash down the inside wall of the pot with a wet pastry brush, which helps prevent sugar crystals from forming around the sides and falling in, causing a chain reaction.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the eggs whites on low speed until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium, and beat until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over fluffed egg whites. Beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites are stiff and glossy, about 4 -5 minutes.  *Meringue can easily be doubled (use 5 egg whites though) if you like a lot on top of your tart.

If making individual tarts, divide curd between them.   Meringue can be spooned on or use a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch star or plain tip and pipe any design that you like.  Using a blowtorch (the same kind as is used for crème brûlée), brown the meringue and serve immediately.


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In the 10 minutes I spent searching on the interwebs, I found an article in the New Times where the author retold a couple of theories on the origin of this little cake.  Some book on the history of pastry; no really, there’s such a book by Pierre Lacam called, “Memorial Historique de la Patisserie” (found one on Amazon for 350,00 €) published in 1890 has one theory.

Lacam wrote that this cake was created by a baker named Lasne.  His bakery was on the Rue St.-Denis near the Bourse, the financial center of Paris.  He wanted to suck up to the bankers so he created this little nibble in the shape of a gold brick.

Nick Malgieri, pastry chef extraordinaire and culinary instructor, believes the nuns of the Order of the Visitation created them and called them visitandines. Both seem plausible and I would happily thank either for their creation.

Regardless of who created them, there’s a couple of details to keep in mind when baking these little “gold bricks”. First off, when cooking the butter melt it on medium-low heat until it starts to smell nutty and the milk solids begin to brown. Watch it like a hawk though as it will go from brown to burnt very quickly. Once it’s the color of a chestnut remove it from the heat and pour it into a bowl to stop the cooking. Don’t be timid either and under cook the butter. It needs to achieve the necessary aroma and color for a successful baking outcome.

The second detail is to mix the batter as little as possible. It should be stirred just until blended. If you are over zealous, gluten formation will occur and these little darlings will be tough.

The batter needs some time to rest in the refrigerator. This will allow the flavors to harmonize and the batter will firm up, making it easier to get the batter into molds. I use a pastry bag for this step but a teaspoon would work too in a pinch.  Trust me though the pastry bag is easier.

The classic shape is rectangular (for the gold bar reference) but the batter can also be baked in mini muffins tins. Though I have non-stick molds (which are 1″ x 2″ x 3/8″), I brush each of them with a little melted butter just for removal insurance.

Of course the size of the mold will determine the number that can be made.  With the molds I have I made about 7 dozen.


13 tablespoons or (6 1/2 oz or 187g) unsalted butter, plus enough to butter the molds
1/4 cup or (2 1/4 oz or 63g) all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups or (4 1/2 oz or 125g) almond powder
3 1/2 cups or (14 oz or 212g) confectioners’ sugar
pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup (6 1/2 oz or 187g) egg whites

Place the butter in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until it turns brown and has the aroma of toasted nuts. Pour into a bowl to stop the cooking and set aside to cool.

In the same pan melt a little more butter.  Brush each mold with some of the melted butter using a small pastry brush. Set aside.

In a medium bowl using a whisk mix together the flour, almond flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt.  Add the egg whites and mix just until combined. When the brown butter has cooled, add it to the dry ingredients and whisk again, just until combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.

Fill the batter 3/4 full into prepared financier or muffin molds. Cook in molds at 350°F for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes then using the tip of a paring knife carefully remove each “cake” to a rack to cool. They taste their best when served the day they are baked though no one has ever complained when I served them the next day.

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Roasted Pecan Maple Ice cream

Ice cream bases (aka crème anglaise) that I’ve run across use anywhere from 2 to 5 to 8 large egg yolks. Since I’m a fan of anything that Shirley Corriher suggests I decided to follow her recipe in CookWise. It calls for 8 large yolks. Her book is such a wealth of information with another tidbit being the necessity to scald milk but not heavy cream when making crème anglaise. That helps tremendously as ice cold cream speeds up the process of chilling down the finished anglaise.

I continue to use David Lebovitz’s suggestion of starting with room temperature eggs and milk which prevents the need of tempering the eggs in the hot liquid. It works great but you still have to be careful not to go above 175°F on your instant read thermometer otherwise you may scramble the eggs.

Lou Miranda Photography

Lou Miranda Photography

Of course it’s not necessary to steep the pecans in the milk, but I wanted to extract as much flavor from them as possible. You can absolutely skip this step if time or energy does not allow it.  Either way enjoy the ice cream on it’s own or on your favorite crisp.  The one pictured is made with fresh peaches.

Makes about 1 quart

For crème anglaise:
1 cup (about 3 1/2 oz) pecan halves
1 cup (8 oz) pure maple syrup
1 3/4 cups (14 oz) whole milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
8 large (about 5 oz or 145 grams) egg yolks
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream, cold
Pinch kosher or sea salt

Place an oven rack on the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F

Place pecan halves in a heavy duty skillet (I used cast iron) and roast for about 15 minutes. While the pecans are in the oven pour  maple syrup in a medium heavy-duty saucepan, place on medium heat and reduce to 3/4 cup.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Pour syrup into a heat proof liquid measuring cup to ensure that it’s at the correct amount. Add or subtract maple syrup as needed to equal 3/4 cup. Set aside.

In the same saucepan add the milk and toasted pecans. Set back on medium heat and bring just to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and allow the pecans to steep in the milk for at least an hour.  Pour mixture over a sieve reserving both the pecans and the milk. Measure the milk to equal 1 1/2 cups adding a little more or less as necessary.  Place the sieve over a large bowl and set bowl in an ice bath.

Return the pecans to the skillet and place back in the oven, stirring occasionally until they become dry, about 30 minutes.

Return the milk to the saucepan and add the salt.  In a small bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. Pour the mixture into the pan of milk and place over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula until the anglaise thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

Pour the anglaise through the sieve into the bowl set over the ice bath.  Add the cream, maple syrup, and vanilla to the anglaise, stirring to combine and to cool the liquid.  When cool, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the anglaise and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 8 hours or preferably up to 12 hours.

Churn the cold anglaise in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Add half the chopped maple glazed pecans in the last few minutes or wait and sprinkle them over the top just before serving. Transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze.

Caramelized Maple Pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Coarse salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
generous 2 cups (about 7 oz) pecans (those that were steeped in the ice cream base and dried, plus another 3 1/2 oz)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Stir in maple syrup, cinnamon, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer (mixture will be frothy), about 3 minutes. Add pecans and toss to coat using a rubber spatula. Cook, stirring, until sauce is syrupy and bubbly, about 3 minutes. Stir in vanilla extract.

Transfer pecan mixture to a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet, and spread into a single layer. Bake until pecans are caramelized, about 10 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack. Stir, and let stand until cool and hardened, about 30 minutes.  Chop into pieces.

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Salad Niçoise

This is a salad that I have enjoyed repeatedly during my travels in Provence.  It is the epitome of summer in the south of France when the herbs from the garden or market are abundant.   The potatoes, lettuces and green beans (haricots verts) are tender and the tomatoes are juicy and ripe having been kissed by the Mediterranean sun.

Nicoise Salade

According to some purists, seared tuna is never served on a classic salade Nicoise.  It’s only canned tuna and purchase the best you can afford.  If you are serving  tuna, including anchovies is also a no no according to some.  Though I have seen both on salads in Provence.  Also, from what I have been told the classic version would only be drizzled with Provençal olive oil not combined with vinegar.

When it comes to cooking, I have never been one to follow the rules exactly and since I am not in Provence, I do not have to follow the rules of appellation d’origine contrôlée or (AOC.)  Therefore, if you have some seared tuna in the fridge or have cucumbers, but not red onions or want to add tuna and also anchovies, by all means do so.

Zest of one lemon, preferably organic
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 – 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk lemon juice, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, tarragon, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle in oil and whisk to emulsify.  Taste with a piece of lettuce to determine balance of acidity.  Set aside.

6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved or quartered (set aside until ready to assemble the salad)
12 small new red potatoes (each about 2 inches in diameter, about 1 ¼ pounds total), scrubbed
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed
2 medium heads Boston lettuce or butter lettuce leaves washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
¼ – 1/2 cup niçoise olives
2 to 3 cans of tuna, best quality available
12 anchovies, preferably salt packed and the best quality available
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped, preferably salt packed

Bring potatoes and 4 quarts cold water to boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook until potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on their size. When cool enough to handle cut potatoes in half or quarters and transfer them to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon (do not discard boiling water). Toss warm potatoes with ¼ cup vinaigrette; set aside.

Make an ice bath. Return water to boil and add the green beans. Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 minutes or better yet taste one to see if it’s perfectly cooked. Drain beans, transfer to reserved ice water, and let stand until just cool, about 30 seconds; dry beans well. Toss beans in about 3 tablespoons vinaigrette. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Toss lettuce with ¼ cup vinaigrette in large bowl until coated. Arrange bed of lettuce on a serving platter or individual salad plates. Toss tomatoes, red onion, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

Arrange the tomato-onion mixture on the salad greens, along with the beans, and reserved potatoes.  Next arrange the hard-boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies.  (Oftentimes the anchovies are draped on top of the eggs.) Drizzle eggs with remaining 2 tablespoons dressing, sprinkle entire salad with capers (if using), and serve immediately.

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