Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ginger Peach Lassi

It's been hot in San Diego. Record-breaking heat-wave hot. AC-inducing, burning-the-succulents-in-my-garden hot. And summer has only just begun...

I'm now living on iced tea, chilled soups, and Thai summer rolls. Then my mom gifted me with white peaches that are now in abundance on her tree. So I turned several of them into a divine drink perfect for this hot weather: a lassi.

What's a lassi? Basically a sweet or savory Indian drink originally from the Punjab region that has yogurt or buttermilk as a base. It can include fruit and/or spices, and is wonderfully refreshing. And did I mention that they're as easy to make as a smoothie?

For my lassi, I rounded up some peaches, ice, lime zest and juice, honey, fresh ginger, and yogurt. It would be sweet, bright with the acid, and have a little zing from the ginger.

Because the ingredients would all go into the blender, there was little prep. Seed and roughly chop the peaches, pull out some ginger from my freezer that I had conveniently grated and stored, zest the lime and then squeeze the juice in my very nifty new (to me) vintage Wear-Ever aluminum juicer that Chef Marguerite Grifka of California's Table introduced me to and that I found on eBay.

I tossed all the ingredients into my Vitamix and let her rip. In just moments I had a frothy chilled peach confection of a drink that got me through 90+ degrees that afternoon. Phew!

Ginger Peach Lassi
(printable recipe)
Serves 2

3-4 peaches, seeded and roughly chopped
3/4 cup of ice
Zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into chilled glasses.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Evie's Lemon Chicken

Periodically I like to share family recipes here. I've written about dill pickles, about noodle kugel, matzoh meal popovers, and blintz casseroles. Clearly, they have an Eastern European Jewish spin to them. But that's what I grew up on.


My parents were terrific cooks. For as long as I can remember, they both enjoyed the creativity of the kitchen and from an early age taught my sister, brother, and me jewels of recipes from our family and culture as well as day-to-day contemporary dishes. Some families ski, others go camping. Ours cooked. My mom in particular has long collected cookbooks about cuisines around the world and has been adventurous in both her cooking and baking and her grocery shopping. It's just part of her DNA. She's reined it in now and my dad can no longer cook, due to his progressing Alzheimer's, but Mom can still surprise me with a terrific dish that's new in her repertoire.

This lemon chicken is one of them. I first had it at their house several months ago. I'm not a white meat chicken fan so I wasn't looking forward to eating it. But, whoa, I loved it. The chicken was tender and moist, with some crunch from breading in panko. Lemon and chicken is a perfect pairing and the citrus here is delightfully tangy, complemented by a fragrant herbs. My mom served it recently with grilled asparagus and roasted baby potatoes, but I'd be sure to have some kind of rice or grains to sop up the juices.

The premise for this lemon chicken is simple. You take chicken tenders (or skinless, boneless chicken thighs--or even fish or boneless pork ribs) and dip them in egg, then panko (both well seasoned, of course) and sauté till brown. Place them in a single layer in oiled pyrex or other baking dishes (for this amount, you'll need two). Pour the chicken broth mixed with lemon juice over the chicken. Cover with foil and bake.

That's it.

And, the beauty of this dish--besides the flavor--is that it freezes wonderfully. So you can make a big batch at once and create individual meals for later.

Evie's Lemon Chicken
(printable recipe)
Yield: 5 to 6 servings

To get really crispy chicken, use cast iron skillets and don't crowd the chicken pieces. Be sure to have paper towels ready on plates to place the cooked chicken to drain. If you don't want to use white meat chicken, this will work just as well with skinless, boneless thighs, boneless pork ribs, and even fish.

20 ounces chicken broth
Zest of 2 lemons
5 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 cup panko
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
3 pounds boneless chicken tenders (about 15 tenders)
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. To make the sauce, mix together chicken broth, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside.
3. Mix together eggs, lemon juice, and garlic salt. Set aside.
4. Mix together panko, cheese, and herbs. Set aside.

5. Trim fat from the chicken. Dunk each piece in the egg mixture, then dredge in the panko mixture. Place in a single layer on a plate until ready to sauté.

6. Heat two cast iron skillets and add about a quarter inch of olive oil to cover the bottom. Add the chicken but don't overcrowd. Sauté until brown on the bottom, then turn. When the chicken is browned on both sides remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Continue with the rest of the chicken until all have cooked.

7. Brush baking dishes with oil. Place the chicken in a single layer in oiled baking dishes. Pour chicken broth mixture over the chicken, halfway up the pan.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with the juices.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Father's Day Treat: Peach Slices with Cointreau

I had to think long and hard about what to do for my dad this Father's Day. What would make the day special for him at this stage in his life? As you may know, he has Alzheimer's Disease and is declining. That makes this year's celebration of him especially poignant. My mom and I will probably take him out for brunch, but buying him a gift is not really appropriate these days. Fortunately, he still loves food. Up until the last couple of years he loved to cook and he still loves to eat. When we were kids, he and my mom loved taking my brother, sister, and me to restaurants that back in the 60s and 70s were unusual at the time--tempura bars, Cuban eateries, Russian fine dining. They wanted to expose us to whatever got us out of our burger or mac and cheese comfort zone.

Even today we go out for Chinese and sushi, burgers and fish and chips. His favorite place to eat these days is Supannee House of Thai in Shelter Island for sweet and sour mixed seafood over brown rice.

I love making food gifts for him and in the past few years I've taken to making him pickles. But it's too early in the season to make him his favorite bread and butter pickles or dill pickles. If not pickles, then what?

Fortunately, I just wrote an article about a new book on canning for the San Diego Union-Tribune, which will appear in the paper's food section next week. The book, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan, revolves around her successful efforts to use alternative sweeteners instead of  refined sugar when making everything from jams and jellies to sauces and pickled vegetables. McClellan, who is the author of two other cookbooks and the blog, Food in Jars, selected naturally occurring sweeteners that still facilitate canning and even add flavors--honey, maple syrup and sugar, coconut sugar, fruit juices, agave, and dried fruits.

I'd already made a couple of the recipes--loquat jam with agave and marinated multicolored peppers with honey-- and was looking forward to making more of them. So, I poked around the book and had an "aha" moment. My dad has always loved canned peaches. Here was a recipe for peach slices with bourbon, using maple syrup as the sweetener.

There was just one obstacle. My dad has never liked spirits. So, I did a little hunting around my pantry and had my second "aha" moment: Cointreau! Orange and peach flavors can be a lovely marriage. And it would also complement the maple syrup in McClellan's recipe.

Perfect. That was the only alteration I made to the recipe.

I bought six pounds of fragrant yellow peaches and spent an early Sunday afternoon making the peach slices. It's a little labor intensive since you have to halve, pit, and skin the peaches. As McClellan says in her recipe's headnote, you really want to use freestone peaches for this. I did not. So it was challenging. Ultimately I used a paring knife to cut around the pit on one side to separate the halves and then to cut it out from the half it clung to. It wasn't pretty but it got the job done.

Everything else went very well, including blanching the fruit to loosen the skin from the flesh. From there, you make a syrup that you slice the peaches into, cook briefly, and then place in the jars together before processing. The result is divine. The peaches bring their own sweetness, the maple syrup adds more but it's very subtle, as is the underlying flavor from the cointreau. The peach slices are tender and I know my dad will enjoy eating them with a little whipped cream. But you should also consider using them to top ice cream or sorbet this summer, or perhaps some pound cake or angel food cake. Save a couple of jars in your pantry and when you're feeling a little wistful for stone fruit next February, you can satisfy that yearning.

To all the dads out there, enjoy your day! I hope your family makes a big fuss over you!

Peach Slices with Bourbon
From Naturally Sweet Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan
(printable recipe)

The trick to canning peaches is to look for the freestone varieties. They typically arrive in markets towards the middle point of peach season and they will make your workload far lighter. You can’t tell by looking what kind you have, so ask your grower or the produce person at your local market. Tell them you want them for canning, they’ll understand.

Makes 4 (pint/500 ml) jars

6 pounds/2.75 kg yellow peaches
6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, divided
3 cups/470 ml filtered water
3/4 cup/235 g maple syrup
1/2 cup/118 ml bourbon

Prepare a boiling water bath canner and 4 regular mouth pint/500 ml jars according to the process on page 12.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While it heats, cut all your peaches in half and remove the pits. Fill a large bowl 2/3 the way up with cold water and add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. The cold water stops the cooking and the lemon helps prevent the fruit from browning.

Working in batches, proceed to blanch all your peach halves for 60 seconds. Make sure to give the water a chance to come back up to boiling between batches. If the water isn’t hot enough, you will have a hard time removing the skin during peeling.

Once all the peaches have been blanched and they are cooling down, make the syrup. Combine the remaining lemon juice, filtered water and maple syrup in a saucepan large enough to eventually hold all the peaches. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer.

While the syrup heats, slide the peels off the peaches and cut them into wedges. Drop the cut wedges into the heating syrup as you work. Once all the peaches are in the syrup, raise the heat to high and bring the pot to a boil.

Using a slotted spoon, funnel the peaches into the prepared jars and top with the syrup, leaving 11/2 inches/3.8 cm headspace. Add 2 tablespoons of bourbon to each jar. Tap the jars gently on the countertop to settle the peaches and use a wooden chopstick to remove any air bubbles. If necessary, add additional syrup to each jar, so that each has a finished headspace of 1/2 inch/12 mm.

Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes (see page 12).

Note: Most the time I’ll tell you that you can use whatever jar you want, but for these peaches, I actually do recommend opting for regular mouth jars. Their shoulders will help keep the peach slices submerged in the syrup and that will ensure they keep their quality longer.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sweet Petite Confections Shows Off The Earl and the Tarts

Do you make bonbons? No? Neither do I. Or neither did I until I met chocolatier Michelle Lomelin of Sweet Petite Confections in Clairemont. Lomelin, whose first career was in fashion design, began to pursue chocolate making in 2000. She launched her business seven-and-a-half years ago, starting in her home, then moving to a rental kitchen, where she made pastries as well as chocolates. A year ago she moved into her brick-and-mortar shop and decided to pare down to her core focus, making seasonal chocolates and holiday and themed collections, utilizing her merchandising skills to design eye-popping and imaginative chocolates and their packaging.

Currently, her spring collection, themed Flora and Fauna (above), is out, along with a gold-and-yellow First Anniversary collection (below). "I design my chocolate collections like clothing," she told me. "This isn't See's."

The retail/kitchen is a bright, sleek space--just what you'd expect from a fashion designer--even outfitted with a refrigerator decorated with a eye-grabbing huge pink rose graphic behind a mammoth marble island that is the kitchen's anchor. This is where she makes her stylish and addictive bonbons, meltaways, barks (love her best-selling Seaside Bark with Hawaiian sea salt and crisped rice), salted caramels, lollipops, and even custom chocolate business cards for retail customers and wholesale clientele, including The Lodge at Torrey Pines, The Hotel del Coronado, the Bahia, the Catamaran's spa, The Hilton Mission Bay, BMW, Hyundai, and the Farmers Insurance Open. It's also where she conducts classes and tastings. And soon she'll be introducing ice cream daily and pastries on Saturday mornings. Eventually, she said, she'd like to expand to offer cafe-style seating.

Lomelin invited me in to learn her techniques for making bonbons, specifically her tart cherry and Earl Grey tea-infused dark chocolate ganache bonbon she calls The Earl and the Tarts. I spent three enjoyable hours with her and found her to be a thorough, engaging, and patient teacher. For her, the classes, the tastings, and even the shopping are directed to one purpose: "I want people to come in here for an experience," she said.

Lomelin had the dark chocolate for the shell and the foot (the bottom of the bonbon) tempering in her tempering machine. You probably don't have one or need one, so follow the directions for tempering chocolate on a site she recommends, King Arthur Flour.

She also prepped the dried cherries. They were chopped and soaking in Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon in a small red bowl.

So, we got started making the ganache. The first step was to heat the cream with the Earl Grey tea leaves. The mixture reaches the boil, then she turns off the heat, covers the saucepan, and lets it steep for five minutes. After that she strains the leaves and adds back a little milk to return the mixture to the original weight.

Then Lomelin adds glucose syrup and reheats the scented mixture to the boil. At that point, she pours it over a combination of dark and milk chocolate pieces--she prefers Guittard chocolate--and lets it sit for a minute. If you want, you can give the chocolate a head start in melting by putting it in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Make sure when you're working with the chocolate that you keep it away from unnecessary moisture. At its best, it can be difficult to work with. As Lomelin said, "Chocolate is like a fussy French chef in a bad mood. You have to yield to it."

With the chocolate warmed, you want to stir the mixture until it emulsifies. Lomelin starts in the center of the bowl and works outward in large circles.

Next, she adds the butter and incorporates the pieces smoothly into the mixture. Now you have ganache. Time to transfer it into a pastry bag. Lomelin has a nifty trick to do this pretty smoothly. Get yourself a large cup--along the lines of a 7-Eleven-size slurpie cup--and place a pastry bag or thick plastic ziplock bag inside, folding the top of the bag over the top of the cup. Now you can use both hands to pour the ganache into the bag.

Tie up the top of the bag and place it on its side while you move on to the next steps. If the ganache begins to harden at the tip (if you're using a plastic bag, you'll snip off the corner to create the hole), simply warm it up by gently massaging it.

From here you'll drain the cherries in a sieve and blot them with paper towels. Don't toss the liquid. You can enjoy it in cocktails or custards, or even reduced to a syrup to use over ice cream.

So, here comes the fun part. Putting it all together in molds. You can find chocolate molds at places like Michaels or Do It With Icing or online. Lomelin uses expensive thick polycarbonate molds.

You don't need those but they were cool to work with. She showed me how to decorate them with colored cocoa butter. First we did some finger painting, dipping a finger in the "paint" and then smearing the mold's interior. Then we did some spray painting.

You probably aren't going to do this, but what you can do after the the bonbons are made is use luster dust, an edible decorating powder, or confectioners glitter--both of which I found on Amazon.

Add a little vodka to a small bowl. Lomelin uses vodka for three reasons--it has no flavor or color and the alcohol evaporates. Using a blush brush, dip it lightly in the vodka, lightly in the glitter, and then lightly brush it on the bonbon.

Okay, back to the process. Remember that tempered chocolate? Well, you're going to pour that into the mold over the paint and then drain the excess (that's why you need to temper so much more chocolate than you'll actually use; save the rest by pouring it on a cookie sheet. Once it hardens break it up and put the pieces in a ziplock bag to store.)

Now you have shells. They need to crystalize or harden. You'll know when they're ready for the next step when they go from shiny to matte.

At that point, get the ganache in the pastry bag and place a dot of it into each cavity. This allows the cherries, which you add next, to stick. Then you'll pipe in the ganache for real, leaving space for the foot.

By the time you fill each cavity, the chocolate will have hardened a bit, so Lomelin warms it up with a heat gun (alternately, use a hair dryer) so the foot will adhere seamlessly. Now you'll add more tempered chocolate to create the foot, sluicing off excess with a scraper.

Okay, almost done. The mold/s go into the refrigerator for about an hour to crystalize. When they're hard, gently tap the mold to release the bonbons.

I bet you think that's it. But not quite. You want to put them in a pretty package, right? Lomelin taught me a nifty trick for getting the chocolates securely into those little paper cups. Use your thumb and index finger to slightly spread open the cup. Place the bonbon squarely in the middle above the cup and lower it until you feel it hitting the cup. Release your fingers, then swiftly but gently press down on the bonbon. It should actually click in. Don't worry if you don't get it right away. This will take a bit of practice, but it's so satisfying when it works.

The Earl and the Tarts
from Michelle Lomelin of Sweet Petite Confections
Yield: 66 12-gram bonbon pieces

175 grams heavy cream
10 grams earl grey tea leaves
Whole milk (as needed)
55 grams glucose syrup (available in San Diego at Do It With Icing--or substitute with corn syrup)
155 grams 64% dark chocolate, roughly chopped if not already in pieces or discs
240 grams 33% milk chocolate, roughly chopped if not already in pieces or discs
30 grams butter, softened and cut into pieces
100 grams dried tart Montmorency cherries (available at Trader Joe's), minced 
100 grams Bourbon (Buffalo Trace) or spirit of choice
 2 pounds 72% dark chocolate, tempered (King Arthur Flour explains the process well.)

To make ganache: In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and tea leaves just to a boil. Cover and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Strain leaves from cream and return to original weight by adding milk. Add glucose syrup and reheat to just a boil. Place the dark and milk chocolate pieces in a bowl. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Using a spatula, stir mixture in small vigorous circles in the center of the bowl until it emulsifies. Stir outward in larger circles to spread the emulsion throughout the bowl. If necessary, heat the ganache for 5 seconds at a time in the microwave until all chocolate is melted. Once all chocolate has melted, add the butter and stir until incorporated. Transfer to a pastry bag.

In a small bowl, combine the minced cherries with the spirit and let reconstitute for 1 hour (or more if desired). Drain through a mesh sieve and lightly pat dry. Save the remaining liquid to enjoy in cocktails or reduce and make a syrup to pour over ice cream.

Prepare the bonbon mold as desired. Using tempered 72% chocolate, create a shell and allow to crystalize. Once chocolate has crystalized, pipe in a dot of ganache, then sprinkle in approximately 1.5 grams of cherries per cavity. Pipe in ganache, leaving approximately 1/8 inch for the foot. Using a heat gun or hair dryer, warm the mold slightly and add the foot. Place in cooler for 1 hour to crystalize. Gently tap mold to remove chocolates.

Sweet Petite Confections is located at 3582 Mount Acadia Blvd. in San Diego.