Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
~Julia Child

BLUEBERRY CLAFOUTI (CLAFOUTI AUX MYRTILLES)

This is just a riff on an earlier clafouti take that appeared on a May 9, 2009, page but now is directly aimed at blueberries only, a perpetual fav. A more historical and geographical glimpse of clafouti is found there.

(As always, reference can be made by simply typing in clafouti in the “Search” box found on nearly the upper right of the main page; just below the Categories and just above the Recent Posts.  It is the means by which damned near everything can be found on the site.)

Blueberries, a super food, are considered one of the healthiest, both low in calories and high in nutrition.  From the genus Vaccinium, it is a perennial flowering shrub that produces berries that are hued blue to purple — indigoed — with a flared crown at the end and covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax. At first, the berries are green in color.  There are two most common types, highbush, which are most common and lowbush, which are smaller in stature, synonymous with wilder, and more fecund with antioxidants.

To my chagrin, it seems blueberries have adapted titles that resound like a female grooming brochure or study.  To somehow even think that hair “down there” is somehow contortedly unhygienic or those who inexplicably opt for that prepubescent look or those who urge their mates to do the same…quelle honte, quel dommage.

Blueberries contain fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, antioxidants (improving brain function), flavonoids, anthocyanins, reduce DNA damage, neutralize free radical damage, improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, have anti-diabetic effects, prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), lower blood pressure and protect LDL lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) from oxidative damage.

Need I say more?

Well, have a happy 4th.  Whatever that means — so few years this republic, this democracy, this oligarchy or otherwise and so much violence over our time. Really, exactly When Was America Great — name some dates (even an era), bro?  Your ongoing silence, M. Donald, speaks volumes as does your silly red hat, under that asinine red/white/grey/orange comb-over that can tweet something irrational at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night. I await your prompt response — it has been days now, almost a fortnight, likely more. Apparently, you have no answer.

2 T blueberry eau-de-vie or 1 T cognac or brandy
2 T light brown sugar

1/3 C granulated sugar (divided)
1/3 C turbinado cane sugar (divided)

1/3 C unsalted butter, softened
2 lbs seasonal blueberries

3 large, pastured eggs
6 T heavy whipping cream
6 T whole milk
1/4 C cornstarch or all purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Combine the blueberry eau-de-vie and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl to dissolve along with the light brown sugar.

Add the blueberries and butter and toss to blend. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven. Bake until the fruit is hot, and set the blueberries aside to cool to room temperature.

Lower the oven to 350-375 F

Whisk the eggs until frothy with a mixer, adding the remaining sugars. Then add the cream, milk and cornstarch (preferably) or flour and mix until well blended. There should be a smooth waffle-like batter.

Place the blueberries in a baking dish in a single layer. Slowly pour the batter over the fruit, filling just to the brim. Bake until until golden, some 35-40 minutes. Set aside, and turn broiler to high.

Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar on top sparsely yet evenly.  Place under the broiler until the sugar is caramelized.

Serve the clafouti directly from the skillet in preferably in wedges or actually unmold and place on a platter. To unmold, make certain that the clafouti is free from the sides of the pan, and if necessary, run a sharp knife around the edge to release it.  Serve warm.

Lemons — Oval Bliss

April 17, 2016

When life gives you lemons, ask what life is suggesting.
~Unknown

Sunshine globes, lemons often peak in May through August.  Along with their cousins limes, lemons munificently have flavonoids, antioxidants, oxalates, folates, and limonoids boasting anti-cancer auras and also are a sublime source of vitamin C and free radicals.  So many tidbits for you.

Plus clamorous flavors — the tartness of lemon curd with a shortbread base, then finished with averse sea salt and sugar.  Something just like Mom used to create, well except for the sea salt (but, little doubt she would adore that touch and savor).

LEMON BARS

Preheat oven to 325 F

1 1/4 C all purpose flour
1/4  C granulated sugar
3 T confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 t lemon zest
A pinch of sea salt
10 T cold unsalted butter, cold and cubed

1/2 C fresh lemon juice
2 T lemon zest, freshly grated
1/2 C granulated sugar or 1/4 each raw + granulated sugars
2 local, large eggs
3 local, large egg yolks
1 t cornstarch
6 T unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Confectioners’ sugar
Sea salt, coarse

For crust, line 9″ x 9″ heavy baking pan with parchment paper hanging over edges. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flour, both sugars, zest and sea salt together. Pulse or use fingers to cut butter into the flour mix until a crumbly dough forms. Press dough into papered pan with fingers and bake around 30-35 minutes, until slightly golden.

For curd, whisk together lemon juice, zest, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and cornstarch in a medium heavy saucepan. Stir in butter over medium heat, whisking frequently, until curd shows marks of whisk and bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes.

Refrigerate in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap until chilled.

Remove the crust and pour the curd onto the base. Return the pan to the oven and bake until curd is just set, 10-15 minutes more. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate before cutting into bars.

Lightly sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and coarse sea salt right before serving.

Nutrition

April 10, 2016

In many cases, it was the woman’s stomach — not her heart — that fell for her man.
~Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Perhaps we should heed Michael Pollen’s words when he opines:  “Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly plants”  and “(d)on’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognize as food.”  

But, what to do with an omnivore like me, even though I do crave and consume more greens? A ruffian who also savors pork butts, steaks, hamburgers, lamb shanks and the like.  So many of which should be moderately grazed even if it does shorten life span some. Little doubt, the great-grandmother (well, grandmother) advice is revered here.

Also, constant solitary food research should be coveted, even strongly urged, as those that don white jackets with names emblazoned below the heart who pretend to be scientists should rarely be trusted.  Pseudoscience, while dabbling in dogma and ideology, should ever be confronted with educated skepticism.

There is no desire here to live on greens with aims to meet our 90’s-100’s suffering from dementia in a walker, adult stroller, wheelchair, canes, at a nursing home or hospitalized with “visitors” shuffling about, etching out lives of quiet desperation on a big pharma weekly or daily plastic diet drug box, bereft of most gypsy sense of ado.  It seems so egotistical to exist that way, merely seeking to live until those ripe ages with so little exploits.  Just so you know, one cannot live forever.

Thankfully, life has been a truly exquisite and ambrosial ride.  There are so many fecund stories to bespeak and reveal, even some late night cartwheels in a skirt sans panties.

I rebel, therefore we exist.
~Albert Camus

Another resplendent sweet, sort of, well really, actually — a Middle Eastern snack made with phyllo and nuts and drenched throughout with a honey glaze. The textures and tastes are flat supreme.  It is opined by many that Baklava was first savored around the 8th century B.C.E. in northern Mesopotamia, when Assyrians layered thin pieces of dough with nuts, baked the pastries in wood burning ovens, and added honey for sweetness.

But, first let us briefly digress to World War I (1914-1918) الجزائر, Algeria, vast, diverse, luxuriant, and often stark lands in what is known as the Maghreb region of North Africa, somewhat west of today’s Egypt. For baklava has been and is relished in Algeria as well.

The French viewed Algeria (Algérie) as just another “decadent state,” given to sins such as slavery, piracy and tribal anarchy. So, the Code de l’indigénat was a “lawful” scheme creating an inferior legal status for natives of French colonies from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century – making discrimination legitimate and actually legally dispossessing natives. Denizens were never afforded rights as citizens of overseas departments and were assimilated so to create in the colonies integral parts of France.

The Code de l’indigénat has been at the center of now revised thinking about French policies — colonial “indirect” rule.

The loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 led to pressure on the French government to make new land available in Algeria for thousands of Alsatian-Lorraine “refugees” or colons who were resettled there.  Pied noirs (“black foots”) they were called and later slaughtered likewise.

The colonial regime imposed greater taxes on Muslims than on Europeans yet the colons controlled the revenues which would be spent. As a result, colon towns had graceful buildings, paved avenues lined with trees, fountains and statues, while Algerian villages and rural areas benefited little. For an example, take a gander at Le Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger which towers over Algiers.

The school curricula were entirely French and afforded zero places for Arabic studies, which were deliberately downgraded even in Muslim schools. Within that generation, educated, gallicized Muslims, les évolués (the evolved ones), were created.

The colons who ran Algeria maintained a condescending dialogue only with the beni-oui-ouis (“yes men”). Later, they deliberately thwarted contact between the évolués and Muslim traditionalists on the one hand and between évolués and official circles in France on the other.  So, no genuine communication existed between the communities — probably only underlying, then direct enmity prevailed.

The first Code de l’indigénat was implemented by the Algerian senate on July 14, 1865 (on Juillet quatorze? in 1865?  Perhaps no one knew, right?). The first article stated:

The Muslim indigenous is French, however, he will continue to be subjected to Muslim law. He may be admitted to serve in the terrestrial and marine Army. He may be called to function and civil employment in Algeria. He may, on his demand, be admitted to enjoy the rights of a French citizen; in this case, he is subjected to the political and civil laws of France.

The Code distinguished two categories of citizens: French citizens (ethnic metropolitans) and French subjects, that is to say black Africans, Algerians, North Africans, et al., who lived there.

French subjects submitted to the Code de l’indigénat were deprived of much of their freedom and their political rights and only retained their personal statuses, religions or origins. As is too often the case, the colonialism practiced in Algeria resembled a kind of slavery of indigenous peoples as they were stripped of their identity.

The Code allowed Muslims to apply for full French citizenship, a measure that few took since it involved renouncing the right to be guided by sharia law in personal matters and was considered a kind of apostasy – a rejection of Islam. The Code de l’indigénat was a bitter anathema to Islamic tenets.

In a sense, World War I has never ended as many Arab peoples are still living its historical, religious, tribal and geographical consequences.  This is a short story, but there is some truth to it.  Blogs.

Baklava (Farsi for “many leaves”) consists of layers of phyllo filled with nuts and spices and drenched in a honey syrup.  Almost seems metaphorical.

BAKLAVA

2 C raw sugar
1 C honey
1 1/2 C water
2 T lemon juice
2 T light corn syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves, whole
1 t cardamon, ground

1 lb pistachios and walnuts, in equal parts, finely chopped
1/4 C raw sugar
1 lb phyllo dough
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F

Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Halt stirring, then increase the heat to medium, and cook until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.  Allow to cool.

Combine all the nut and raw sugar ingredients.  Grease a 13″ x 9″ glass baking pan with a stick of butter.

Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with melted butter. Repeat the butter treatment with more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with more sheets, again brushing each with butter.  Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of several sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges. Ne pas oublier la beurre!

Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water to inhibit the pastry from curving upwards. Bake for about 20 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 300 F and bake until golden brown, for about 15 additional minutes.

Score to form diamond shapes, and then cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for several hours, if not overnight.  Try with some strong coffee.

 

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.
~Albert Einstein

So, tomorrow is Pi Day which will not happen again until 2115 — and the date also just so coincides with the birthday of Albert himself. Pi (the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet) represents a mathematical constant, namely the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter or approximately 3.14159265 (3.14 for short). The diameter of a circle is the distance from edge to edge, measuring straight through the center point, and the circumference is the distance around the circle. By measuring circular objects over time, it has always turned out that the distance around a circle is a tad more than 3x the width.

Ergo: pi equals the circumference divided by the diameter (π = c/d). Conversely, the circumference is equal to pi times the diameter (c = πd).

Being a constant number, pi applies to circles and spheres of any size. To Pi aficionados, this number has even been calculated to over a trillion digits beyond the decimal point, and this irrational number happens to continue infinitely without settling into a repeating pattern.

So, join this zany worldwide celebration of all mathematical enigmas by creating and relishing something round.

BLUEBERRY PIE (PI)

Dough (Pâte Fine Sucrée)
2 egg yolks
6 T ice water

2 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
3 T granulated white sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1″ bits

Filling
4 C fresh, plump blueberries
1/2 C granulated white sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
2 gratings fresh nutmeg
Small dash, vanilla extract
2 T cornstarch
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T lemon zest

Unsalted butter bits, chilled and cut into 1″ pieces

Egg Wash
1 fresh local egg, beaten with 1 T water

Gently whisk the yolk with the water until it is well blended.

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10-15 seconds. Pour water and yolk mixture through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Knead the dough for less than one minute and your work surface and then gather into a ball.

(Alternatively — place the flour, salt, and sugar in a round bowl and combine. Add the butter and work with your hands, mashing it through your fingers to have everything blend together. It will form into small lumps or a cornmeal like consistency after 1 or 2 minutes. Pour the yolk mixture into the round bowl and mix vigorously with your fingers until all the ingredients are assembled together into a round ball.)

Divide the dough in half, flattening each half into a thick round disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After chilling, unwrap and place one dough on a floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour too. Roll the pastry with light pressure, from the center out. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, add some flour and keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll from the center of the pastry outwards. Turn the dough over once or twice during the rolling process until it is about 11″ in diameter and less than 1/4″ thick. Fold the dough in half and gently transfer to a 9″ pie pan by draping it over the rolling pin, then moving it onto the plate and unrolling it. Once in the plate, press the dough firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the excess dough to about 1/2″ all around the dish, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Brush off any excess flour and trim the edges of the pastry to fit the pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

Then, remove the second dough from the refrigerator and roll it into a 12″ circle (also think about a lattice top). Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

In a small round bowl mix together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest. Place the blueberries in a large round bowl. Add the mixture to the blueberries and gently toss to combine.

Remove the crusts from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for a few minutes so they can become pliable. Carefully pour the blueberry filling into the chilled bottom pie crust. Strew the butter pieces over the blueberry filling. Moisten the edges of the pie shell with a little water and then place the top crust over the blueberries. Tuck any excess pastry under the bottom crust and then crimp or flute the edges using your fingers. Brush the top (or lattice) with the egg wash and cut slits from the center of the pie out towards the edge of the pie to allow steam to escape. You may wish to cover edge with 2″ strip of foil to prevent excessive browning. Cover the circular pie with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill while the oven is preheated.

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Place an oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or sheet pan on the rack while it preheats.

Set the round pie on the baking stone or sheet pan lined with parchment paper or foil about 2/3 of the way down. Bake the pie for about 20 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Continue to bake the pie for about 35-45 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown color and the juices are bubbly and thick. If the edges of the pie are browning too much during baking, cover with foil.

Remove the round blueberry pie from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 2 or so hours before slicing. Resist cutting the pie immediately and then serve warm or at room temperature with round globes of vanilla ice cream.

Without further ado…

PROFITEROLES AU CHOCOLAT

2 ozs hazelnuts, roasted, raw and shelled

1 C cold water
1/4 lb unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 t sea salt
1 C all-purpose flour

4 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

1 C heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 t honey
Small pinch of ground cinnamon

1 qt vanilla bean ice cream

1 C bittersweet chocolate sauce, warm (see below)
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast until almost dark, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, then use a clean towel to rub off skins, discarding them. Crush nut meats coarsely with a mortar and pestle, rolling pin or meat mallet and set aside.

To make the puffs, put water, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes together and forms a sticky ball. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring, for a minute or more.

Transfer dough to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed to cool dough slightly, then increase speed and begin to add 4 eggs, one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully incorporated into dough before adding the next. When all eggs have been added, scrape down sides of bowl and beat again until dough is smooth and glossy.

Line a pair of baking sheets with parchment paper, and put dough in a pastry bag or cut gallon ziploc bag to form mounds that are spaced evenly, 2 1/2″ in diameter (around 12 mounds per sheet). Brush each mound with the beaten egg, smoothing the tops with fingers. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 F, then reduce heat to 375 F and continue baking until puffs are nicely browned and crisp, about 25 minutes more. When done, the puffs should be light and airy inside. Cool to room temperature, preferably on a rack.

Meanwhile put cream and sugar in a chilled metal mixing bowl and whip to a soft, light consistency.

To assemble profiteroles, cut puffs in half transversely. Divide softly whipped cream on the bottom half of each puff, then a scoop of ice cream and replace the tops. Transfer filled pastries to chilled dessert plates or bowls.

Drizzle with warm chocolate sauce and sprinkle with reserved crushed hazelnuts. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve promptly.

Chocolate Sauce

1/3 C brown sugar
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
4 ozs bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao or so), chopped
2 T unsalted butter

2 T Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Place double boiler over medium heat and bring water to a simmer. Put sugar, cream, chocolate and butter in top part of double boiler. Let simmer, without stirring, for about 15 minutes, until cream is hot, sugar is dissolved and chocolate has completely melted.

Add Grand Marnier and whisk until glossy and smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso. (Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick.)
~Spanish proverb

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment and federally funded activities like education, became law on July 2, 1964. On this fiftieth birthday, the Act should be celebrated for purportedly halting our version of apartheidism and for overtly outlawing Jim Crow laws in some parts. A “child of the storm,” as the Rev. Martin Luther King once noted. It would not have been enacted without the support of strange bedfellows — House and Senate Republicans who were vying for black votes. Passage of the Act took centuries of oppression and racism, murderous lynchings and shootings, pernicious shackles and floggings, Birmingham bombings, vile Klansmen, the assassination of a youthful president, fierce legislative battles, egregiously bigoted medical policies and care, vicious attack dogs unleashed and batons wielded on citizens, and a bloodied, sometimes slain, army of protesters filling our streets. In remembrance, we must remain vigilant about erosion or even quiet eradication of the Civil Rights Act.

Take, for instance, the 1965 Voting Rights Act which the Roberts’ Supreme Court gutted last year when federal enforcement was invalidated in many states with histories of discrimination against minority voters. Nine states, mostly in the South, were allowed to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion (5-4) authored by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., naively ruled that “(o)ur country has changed…(w)hile any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” See Shelby County, Alabama vs. Holder, et al., 570 U.S. ____ (2013). This ruling effectively ended the use of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which required any changes to voting rules in covered jurisdictions be endorsed by the Justice Department in advance. So, voter identification laws that had been blocked would become effective promptly, redistricting (gerrymandering) maps would no longer require federal approval, and southern states will no longer have the burden of proof in showing that voting changes do not have a racially discriminatory effect.

Public apathy, misinformation, myopia, “legal” ploys, and a conservatively bent Supreme Court with justices ironically clad in black political robes have put our revered Civil Rights Act in jeopardy. How tacit empathy rules in that ivory tower acronymed SCOTUS.

Perhaps some vanilla ice cream cloaked in chocolate is apt, as some things have not changed.

VANILLA ICE CREAM

2 C heavy whipping cream
1 C whole milk
2/3 C granulated sugar
1 small pinch, fine sea salt
1-2 vanilla beans, sliced lengthwise or 1+ t vanilla extract

6 large egg yolks

In a small to medium heavy saucepan, simmer cream, milk, sugar, salt, scrapings and seeds from vanilla bean and add pod or add vanilla extract. Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover and let sit 30 minutes.

In a separate glass or metal bowl, whisk yolks until pale yellow. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pan with the cream. Return pan to medium low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2-3 minutes. Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water and let cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches room temperature.

Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve directly from the machine for soft serve, or store tightly sealed in freezer until wanted.

GANACHE

14 ozs fine, bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into pieces
3 T espresso
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 C sugar (granulated + light brown)
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 pinch coarse sea salt

In a heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients and melt together over very low heat, stirring.

Just before all the chocolate is melted, remove from heat and stir until chocolate melts and mixture comes together. It may appear curdled, but keep whisking vigorously, as it will smooth. If too thick to pour, whisk in hot water a tablespoon at a time. Taste for salt and adjust the seasoning.

Liberally drizzle ganache over the ice cream. Swoon as you spoon.