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.

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Fools make feasts and wise men eat them.
~Benjamin Franklin

Provence — a poetic, mystical southern land which extends from the French Alps on the upper edge, bordered by the bank of the lower Rhône River on the west, abutting the Italian border on the lower east and finally falling into the Mediterranean Sea to the south.

Where villages-perchés seem to cling to bluffs, where marchés quietly demand that you explore serendipitously, and where the sun kisses you throughout the year. The clarity of light, the luminosity is nearly unsurpassed…not to mention the sprawling vistas, microclimates, cobblestone streets, earth tones tinted in brilliant ochres, sparse yet gentle landscapes, lavender fields, from squat olive to narrow pine and cypress trees, an achingly azure shimmering sea with pristine shores and grottoes. There is a feeling of isolation there. An evocative feast for the senses.

Grande destinations include Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Carcassone, Gordes, Arles, La Camargue, Eze, Grasse, St. Tropez, Cassis, St. Raphael, La Luberon, Vence (to name a few). Remember, the papal capital was in Avignon and seven successive popes were housed in France, not Rome. Provence only joined France in 1860, so think Italy too.

Then again, there are some places like the Marseille ghetto with its infamous high rise slums and notorious drug related violence and gang wars. Best avoid (or repair) those.

POULET PROVENCAL et SALADE DE MESCLUN

6-8 bone in, skin on, chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
3 T olive oil
3 T unsalted butter

Herbes de Provence (see below)
1-2 lemons, quartered
10 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
12 Niçoise olives, depending upon size
4-6 medium shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine
1/4 C pastis

1-2 T fresh local honey

8 sprigs of thyme, for serving on each plate

Preheat oven to 400 F

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow bowl, and lightly dredge the chicken, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Heat and swirl the oil and butter in a large roasting pan on the stove, and place the floured chicken in the pan, skin side up. Season the chicken on the skin side with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, olives, and shallots around the chicken, and then add the chicken stock, white wine and pastis to the roasting pan.

Put the loaded roaster in the oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes, and baste several times with pan juices. Continue roasting and basting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, adding the honey scantily during the last 15 minutes in a slow drizzle — until the chicken is quite crisp and the meat shows yellow juices when pricked. Allow to rest for about 8 minutes before serving.

Serve on plates or on a platter with warmed pan juices spooned over the chicken, garnished with thyme sprigs. Present with a mesclun salad with blueberries, French feta cheese, hazelnuts (June 28, 2010) and champagne vinaigrette (see below again).

Herbes de Provence

No doubt you can find herbes de Provence with your spice monger or even at the market. But, you can always and ever easily prepare your own.

3 T dried thyme
2 T dried savory
1 T dried oregano
3 t dried rosemary
2 t dried marjoram
1 T dried lavender flowers

Combine herbs, and store in an airtight container at cool, room temperature.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t local honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a glass bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens (ideally mesclun) you are serving.

As you may recall, mesclun is a varied amalgam of dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence.

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.

Over or Under? Coulis

June 23, 2012

Coulis is thick sauce made from puréed and strained vegetables (savory) or fruits (sweet).

From the Old French coleïs, from coleïz “flowing,” from the vulgar Latin cōlāticus, from Latin cōlātus, “filter, sieve or strain” which is derived from derived from the Latin word colum, “large intestine, colon.” Sounds appetizing, eh?

TOMATO COULIS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 T shallots, peeled and chopped

2 lbs red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 T thyme leaves
1 bay leaf

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, add the garlic and shallots, and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaf, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat, and discard the bay leaf. Allow sauce to cool to room temperature. Then, purée the sauce thoroughly in a food processor by pulsing. Place coulis in a fine sieve and let excess liquid drip through to a bowl. If too thick, whisk in enough of the drained liquid to reach the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

A savory coulis is traditionally served under the meat, fish, or vegetable dish — but this is not required reading.

BLUEBERRY COULIS

1 qt fresh blueberries
3 T sugar
1 T fresh lemon juice

Put 1 pint (one half) of the blueberries in a food processor with sugar and lemon juice. Purée, then strain with a colander, pressing on solids to drain excess juice. Add additional sugar and lemon juice to adjust to taste and then refrigerate.

Serve at room temperature. Stir in remaining whole fresh blueberries just before topping or…

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary. ~William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?
~Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

This post is not intended to be overly didactic or pontific. That capricious punctuation mark that separates words large and small, the comma, does not lend itself to such stringencies. Commas have been used since ancient times, but the modern comma descended from a revered Italian printer, Aldus Manutius (1449-1515). He also laid claim to italic typeface and the ever underutilized semicolon. Before the comma, the oblique virgule (/) — still the French term for comma — denoted a natural pause in speech. While committing Greek masterpieces to type, Manutius dropped this inclined slash lower relative to the text lines and crafted a distinct dot with a gentle metaphorical curve tailing down to the left. The new mark acquired the name comma, a word derived from the Greek komma (κόμμα) which means “to cut off.”

Always adaptive and even idiosyncratic, textual rules have been historically lax for commas. Over time, comma protocol became more codified and emphasized consistency over tonality. For instance, commas have been used to separate independent clauses when a conjunction (e.g., and, but, or) is used in a compound sentence. With appositives and parenthetical phrases, commas are crucial. Serial commas have also been used to separate listed items before the word “and” in a sentence. While some grammarians have insisted upon a squiggle there, others have not.

How punctuation rules have changed over time sometimes appears a matter of whimsy. In recent years, rules of thumb seem to be fading and a more laissez-faire approach has returned. More rules tend to be broken than followed in modern prose. Commas are again being inserted by ear and seem more attuned to individual style and meter. When in doubt, sound it out and listen for natural pauses and rhythms.

This recipe aims to gently kindle the hsien, those altruistic souls who promote munificence. The givers, not always the financial ones though. I have a hunch they love pancakes (and openly dislike or feign subservience to Trumpsters, otherwise known as takers).

Homey stuff.

RICOTTA PANCAKES WITH MEYER LEMONS & BLUEBERRIES

2 C all purpose flour
3/4 C sugar
Small pinch of sea salt
1 t baking powder

4 egg yolks
1 C+ ricotta cheese
3/4 C whole milk
2 Meyer lemons, juiced
1 Meyer lemon, zested

4 egg whites
Pinch of sea salt

Butter
1 pint fresh blueberries

Pure maple syrup

Sift together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks, ricotta, milk and lemon zest and juice. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir/fold until combined.

In another bowl, using a whisk or electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the flour mixture, so the pancakes will be light and fluffy.

Preheat griddle or sauté pan.

Melt butter onto the preheated griddle, then spoon or ladle the batter onto the prepared griddle to desired size. When the pancake top shows bubbles and then holes, it is ready to flip. Sprinkle each pancake with a few blueberries and press down lightly. Then, flip the cakes and cook until the bottom is golden as well.

Serve on plates and drizzle with maple syrup.

If to be interesting is to be uncommonplace, it is becoming a question, with me, if there are any commonplace people.
~Mark Twain

I openly admit to primitive pastry and baking skills. My purlieu lies elsewhere, in a more savory world.

The term “muffin” is derived either from the French word moufflet, meaning a soft bread, or from the German word muffe which is the name for a type of cake. Much like pancakes, it is a two bowl yeast free method where you simply fold the wet into the dry. Please do not overmix—this overdevelops the gluten in the flour which causes tough muffins with tunnels and a compact, almost rubbery texture. Always hand stir the batter until just thick and lumpy.

Symmetrical with domed tops, these muffins are humble homages to those overripe bananas or luscious blueberries peering at you from the counter or fridge. In either event, moist and tender muffins are fine ways to fuel up a morning coupled with a morning cup of joe, or they can be that needed pick me up when you hit that proverbial late afternoon wall…maybe they are an occasional antidote to circadian cycle hiccups.

This may fall short of provocative fare that elicits raves. Then again, things plebeian are not always prosaic.

BANANA OAT MUFFINS

1 1/2 C walnuts

2 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C rolled oats
1 1/2 C granulated white sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 t ground cinnamon
Grating of nutmeg

4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 C unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
6 very ripe large bananas (approximately 1 lb.), mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 t pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F

Place the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

In a large bowl combine the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla.

Lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, and the batter is thick and chunky. Take care not to over mix the batter as totally smooth batter will yield tough, rubbery muffins.

Line two 12 holed muffin pans with paper liners or butter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for five minutes and then remove muffins from pan.

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

5 C all-purpose flour
1 C granulated white sugar
1/2 C raw sugar
3 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
Zest of one orange
Zest of one lemon

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 C buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt
1 1/3 C canola oil
2 t pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 C fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange and lemon zests. Gently fold in the blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract.
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir only until the ingredients are combined. Do not over mix the batter as smooth batter will yield tough, rubbery muffins.

Line two 12 holed muffin pans with paper liners or butter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tins. Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full of batter. Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Mesclun, Berries & Feta

June 28, 2010

My salad days—When I was green in judgment.
~William Shakespeare

Blithe, lithe designer greens.

Mesclun is a diverse blend of young, dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence. The traditional amalgam included precise proportions of wild chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive. Modern iterations may fuse spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, chicory, mustard greens, endive, fennel, dandelion, frisée, mizuna, mâche, purslane, radicchio, sorrel, and even edible flowers. A treat for the eye, mesclun touches upon varied tastes and textures: bitter, sweet, tangy, crunchy and silky. When tart blueberries, brisk feta cheese and nuts are added to the mix, the medley becomes nearly symphonic.

Mesclun derives from the Provençal words mesclom or mesclumo, which are rooted from misculare, a Latin word meaning “to mix.”

MESCLUN, BLUBERRIES, FETA & HAZELNUTS WITH CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

1/2 C hazelnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
Large bunch of mesclun (about 12 C loosely packed)
1 C fresh blueberries
1 C Greek or French feta cheese, crumbled

Champagne vinaigrette

In a large wooden bowl, gently toss greens with champagne vinaigrette, hazelnuts and blueberries. The vinaigrette is meant to lightly coat, not drench the mesclun. Arrange on plates, and top with crumbled feta.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens you are serving.

Pourboire: You are the maestro here as always, so freely substitute other toasted nuts such as almonds, pine nuts, walnuts and create any olio of available greens or differing vinaigrettes.