Thursday, April 25, 2013

National Zucchini Bread Day?

Today is National Zucchini Bread Day, but why so early in the gardening season? Perhaps because people aren't completely sick and tired of zucchini yet, like they will be in August! There are many jokes referencing the prolific nature of zucchini, such as:

"How can you tell that someone has no friends?"
"They buy zucchini at the store!" (That's sad!)
"Keep a bag of zucchini by the front door to ward off unwanted visitors!" (Does that work?!)

Modern zucchini, (aka., summer squash, courgettes, etc.), are descendants of squash plants first cultivated in Mexico and Guatemala. Squash seeds have been found in archaeological digs in Mexico, dating back to 9000-4000 B.C. Shortly after Europeans arrived in the Americas, they sent seeds back to Europe. The plant eventually found its way to Italy, where it was bred into today's modern form and named "zucchino." Italian immigrants then brought back their zucchini to the Americas! It's been the gift that keeps on giving! So, before you start receiving mystery zucchini in your mailbox or unlocked car, try this delicious recipe for "Zucchini Bread!" I've been making it for years and everyone loves it! Even my kids eat it up! It's perfect for breakfast, snacks, and especially picnics!

Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 loaves


3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 medium-size zucchini, washed, ends trimmed, and shredded (skin, seeds, and all!)
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon into a bowl. Beat the eggs lightly in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, oil, zucchini, lemon rind, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture, blending thoroughly. Stir in the walnuts. Spoon the batter into two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" loaf pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the centers spring back when lightly pressed with fingertip. Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool thoroughly.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tea Time for Madeleine

I've been continuing to dabble in The Little Paris Kitchen and made "Madeleines with Lemon Curd (Madeleines a la creme au citron)." Madeleines (aka., "Madeleine Commercy") are small sponge tea cakes made in distinctive scallop-shaped molds, originally created in the town of Commercy, of the Lorraine region in northeastern France. They consist of a simple blend of sugar, butter, eggs, flour, and a touch of lemon. They are very popular at "gouter," France's tea or snack time which bridges the gap between lunch and dinner.

According to A La Cloche Lorraine (one of the major madeleine producers in Commercy), in 1755, King Stanislas of Lorraine was having an elaborate meal when his chef stormed out of the kitchen leaving him and his guests without dessert! Inconceivable! After diverting attention with games and stories, dessert of little golden cakes miraculously appeared! The king summoned the creator of these buttery cakes, who turned out to be a "pretty young maid; pink confusion and hands still white flour..." The king asked, "What do you call this masterpiece?" She replied, "There is no name, sir, it's that it is home to Commercy." The king asked the maid her name, in which she replied "Madeleine." He answered, "Well, as you call it: Madeleine Commercy." Madeleines grew in popularity and have become a time-honored custom, practically becoming France's National cookie, sold in patisseries all over the country!

This version from Rachel Khoo adds a little something extra, a raspberry/lemon curd surprise inside! This recipe was very easy to follow and my madeleines turned out beautifully! Keep in mind that the lemon curd and batter are best made hours, or even overnight, before using. In addition, if you don't want to use the raspberry/lemon curd mix, simply make them without, or be creative by adding blueberries, mini chocolate chips, a dollop of Nutella, dip half the cakes in melted chocolate, or even sandwich them together with pastry cream! The sky's the limit!

Madeleines with Lemon Curd (Madeleines a la creme au citron)

Makes about 24

For the lemon curd
Finely grated zest and juice from 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter
2 egg yolks

For the madeleines
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
1 pint basket of raspberries
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

For the lemon curd
Put the lemon zest and juice, salt, sugar, and butter into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar and butter have melted. Remove from the heat. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, then add to the pan and whisk vigorously. Return the pan to a low heat and whisk constantly as the curd starts to thicken. Don't stop whisking or the eggs will curdle (if the curd starts to boil, take off the heat). Once the curd thickens and releases a bubble or two, remove from the heat, and pass the curd through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap in direct contact with the curd and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

For the madeleines
Beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and frothy. Measure the flour and baking powder into a separate bowl and add the lemon zest. Mix the honey and milk with the cool butter, then add to the eggs. In two batches, fold in the flour. Cover and leave to rest in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-shell madeleine pan. (I have a non-stick madeleine pan, so I don't flour it, but the butter is an essential part of creating the golden crust!) Put the lemon curd into a piping bag fitted with a small, pointed nozzle and place in the fridge.

Put a heaped tablespoon of batter into each madeleine shell and press a raspberry deep into the batter. Bake for 5 minutes, turn the oven off for 1 minutes (the madeleines will get their signature peaks), then turn the oven on to 325 degrees and bake for another 5 minutes. Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, wash and dry the pan, then repeat the baking as for the first batch. While the second batch is baking, pop the piping nozzle into the mound in each baked madeleine and squirt in a teaspoon's worth of lemon curd.

Repeat with the second batch, then dust with confectioners' sugar and serve straightaway.

Recipe from The Little Paris Kitchen, by Rachel Khoo.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Happy National Pecan Day!

I love pecans! These buttery nuts with a soft bite are native to North America and can provide a delicious bite to salads, entrees, and desserts. Did you know that the pecan tree, a relative of the hickory, was declared the state tree of Texas in 1919? Did you know that by eating pecans regularly it can lower your bad cholesterol as much as prescribed medications? And did you know that by chopping them finely, mixing with melted white chocolate, then wrapping them in a corn husk, you get a fantastic after-dinner bite, perfect following Mexican and Southwestern cuisine? These adorable "White Chocolate Tamales" are so easy and an excellent way to celebrate National Pecan Day!

White Chocolate Tamales

Makes about 18


6 dried corn husks (found in the Mexican section of most grocers)
8 ounces white chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted pecans, minced


Soak the corn husks in warm water to make them pliable. Drain and dry well. Tear into about 2" strips. Set aside.

Melt the white chocolate chips in a double boiler. (No double boiler, see Gadgets.) When completely melted, stir in the pecans.

Take a tablespoon of the mixture and spread down the end of a corn husk strip.

Wrap each side over the filling, then fold the empty end over. Place on a sheet pan, seam side down.

Chill to set then store in an airtight container in a cool place.

Recipe adapted from Canyon Cafe: Bringing The Southwest Experience Home.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Little Paris Kitchen

Last week I was browsing a local bookstore and stumbled on Rachel Khoo's The Little Paris Kitchen cookbook. After seeing her show on BBC, and now Cooking Channel, I just had to buy it! If you know me, you know I will sit myself down and read an entire cookbook, just like a novel! It reveals the author's perspective on food, entertaining, and cooking style, which I find inspiring! I loved Rachel's charming writing and creative twists on classic dishes. It made me run into the kitchen to try some recipes out! 

I made her "Salade d'hiver avec une mousse au fromage de chevre (Winter salad with a goat's cheese mousse),"

"Poulet au citron et lavande (Lemon and lavender chicken),"

"Asperges a la parisienne (Parisian asparagus),"

"Oeufs en cocotte (Eggs in pots),"

and "Gratin de macaronis au fromage (Mac 'n' cheese)!"

I've been busy!!!

I truly enjoyed the Winter Salad with a Goat's Cheese Mousse! It was so beautiful! I will definitely make it again! I truly loved her recipe for Eggs in Pots! It makes an easy and special breakfast, even just for one! I will definitely make it again! However, I found her Lemon and Lavender Chicken disappointing. The flavors were ho-hum, leaving me disappointed. I expected something more. I will not make it again. The Parisian Asparagus was served with "sauce allemande," a type of veloute sauce (basically a bechamel made with stock rather than milk), which was stated to be "a great alternative to hollandaise." I think not! The sauce was okay, but not even close to the beauty of hollandaise and asparagus. And finally, her Mac 'n' Cheese was nothing to write home about.

In conclusion, I really want this book to become a main staple in my cookbook repertoire. I'm still not sure about that... In Rachel's defense, I haven't tried any of her breads, desserts, etc., in which I'm sure will be fantastic given her patisserie training from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. (I hope!) I'll keep you posted! Until then, try these recipes for Winter Salad with Goat's Cheese Mousse and Eggs in Pots and let me know what you think?

Winter Salad with a Goat's Cheese Mousse (Salade d'hiver avec une mousse au fromage de chevre)

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

For the mousse
7 ounces Selles-sur-Cher cheese, or any other soft goat cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup whipping cream

For the vinaigrette
4 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

For the salad
4 carrots, roughly chopped
2 small dessert apples, cored and quartered
2 parsnips, roughly chopped
2 tablespoon sunflower oil
3 1/2 ounces lardons or cubes of smoked bacon
1 cooked beet, peeled and very thinly sliced (To cook a beet, boil it whole in water for about 45 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork!)
2 handfuls of salad leaves (I think 4 handfuls is better!)

For the mousse
Beat the cheese with the milk until soft and lump free. Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Add one-quarter of the whipped cream and mix together, then fold in the rest of the cream. Transfer the mousse to a piping bag fitted with a 3/8" plain nozzle and leave in the fridge until needed (it will keep for a couple of days).

For the vinaigrette
Mix together the oil and vinegar and season with salt.

For the salad
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the carrots, apples, and parsnips into a large roasting pan. Drizzle with the sunflower oil and season with salt. Roast for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and golden.

Just as the vegetables finish cooking, toss the lardons into a hot pan and cook until crisp.

To serve, arrange the roasted vegetables and apples, beet, and salad leaves on the plate. Pipe little blobs of mousse randomly all over the plate. Sprinkle the lardons on top. Finally, drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Eggs in Pots (Oeufs en cocotte)

Serves 4 as a starter (to make a single serving, use 2 tablespoons creme fraiche, one egg, etc.)

2/3 cup creme fraiche
Salt and pepper
Handful of chopped dill (or whatever you prefer)
4 eggs
Red lumpfish roe (optional)
Small sprigs of dill (or whatever you're using)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the creme fraiche with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Place a heaped tablespoon of creme fraiche in the bottom of a ramekin, followed by a little dill. Crack an egg on top, add a second tablespoon of creme fraiche, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Repeat with three more ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish (for a single serving, I put it in a small shallow pot) and pour enough lukewarm water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 15 minutes or until the egg yolks are set to your liking. (The creme fraiche will be runny, so don't assume the egg whites aren't done when they probably are!)

If you like, finish each serving with a teaspoon of red lumpfish roe and a sprig or two of dill. (For breakfast, I like to serve with toasted bread "sticks" to sop-up the runny yolk! Yum!)

*See Techniques for "How do you easily remove ramekins from a water bath?"

Recipes adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen, by Rachel Khoo.