Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jewels of the Market

It occurred to me this weekend that browsing the farmers markets for the most perfect flowers and seasonal & regional produce is in many ways similar to one of my great loves, antiquing.  I am passionate about both.  From the best antique stores to the lowliest vide grenier, I love hunting for that diamond in the rough, the beautiful antique or collectible or objet that truly speaks to me.  I also love going to food markets anywhere in the world and finding the very best of what is fresh on offer that day. 

I found just a few bunches of Buddleia or “butterfly bush” from David at the Saturday market; I snapped them up at the market open. I don’t remember seeing them much for sale at markets, but these were superior in color to anything else on offer. They set the tone for the weekend and were so beautiful on the tables~


Contents of the Saturday baskets were quickly devoured with the ribs & chicken that night, but Sunday brought a new day, a new market, and the opportunity to find the very best fresh produce~


My Dad loves corn on the cob, and we have it just a few times each summer; I found bi-color corn from Kawano Farms; it was picked Friday and cooked Sunday, still in its plumpness~


I looked at the corn at Trader Joe’s on Monday, and the kernels were already very shriveled.  Kevin told me that the bi-color corn is even sweeter than the white corn (it is!)  He was cracking up as I said I needed his mug shot for the blog~


Next stop was Daniel from Nicolau Farms and our little pixie Paloma from Sage Mountain, who are next-door neighbors at the Rancho Santa Fe market.   Most of my produce comes from Sage each week; they are amazing and I hope to take a tour of the farm one day soon~


They were having a good laugh pointing at the basket I was assembling~ “your beautiful cherries, right there, there, next to my arugula”~ like the best antique dealers, the best farmers will tell you absolutely everything about what is good and when.  It is encyclopedic and intuitive, based on what they have seen and what they know about the terrain, weather, and their instinct.  Perhaps more than the antique dealers, the farmers have to deal with whatever curve ball Mother Nature sends them; and we consume it and it is gone, until whatever is good next week~


These cherries were indeed one of the jewels of the market this week.  Daniel says this may be the last week for the Coral variety, and that the recent rains were not good for the two other varieties still to come.  With the fresh cherries from Daniel, I had a little bake-off, the classic French dessert Clafoutis, here~


The Clafoutis comes from the Limousin region of France and it is made with dark cherries.  You will sometimes see Clafoutis made with pears or other fruits, but cherry is the classic.  The word “Clafoutis” comes from the old French verb “clafir” which is “to fill up'.” 

Traditional Clafoutis

3 eggs

3 “spoons” of sugar

1 “spoon” of vanilla sugar or regular sugar (I use heaping tea spoons)

3 spoons of flour

1 generous pinch of salt, preferably French Sea Salt

2 tablespoons orange zest

2 1/4 cups milk or milk and cream or half and half (more cream=richer taste but you can experiment)

Butter for the pan and pieces to top


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Wash and pit the cherries. If you do not have a cherry pitter, you can use a small knife. Set the cherries aside.

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the sugar, the vanilla sugar, salt and mix them all well with a whisk. Then add the flour. Add the orange zest and 1/3 of the milk mixture.  Mix with the whisk for a smooth batter.  Add the rest of the milk, and let sit for half an hour.

Butter the bottom of a tarte pan or some other flat plan; I used an 14“ fluted pan but you can use any size.  Place the raw pitted cherries on the pan, and then pour the batter on top, through a fine strainer to catch the orange zest.  Add a few small pieces of butter on top.  Fill almost to the top, the eggs rise a little but not too much.  Cook around 35 minutes, until it is set and slightly golden; you can test with a knife but I just test by my finger; if it is firm and a little golden, it is done! 

Let cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.  Best eaten warm, though my family attacks it as soon as it leaves the oven.  

I made a second version, from Chef Joel Robuchon; this is from Patricia Wells’ cookbook Simply French.  It’s a great basic French cookbook!  It involves a pre-baked pate sucree cust, and the cherries are cooked in the oven for 5 minutes or so so they give up some of their liquid.  The batter has more sugar and you sprinkle some extra crust crumbs on top of the cherries before adding the batter.   This makes for a firmer pie. It was a beautiful clafoutis~


My family of course loved the second one, that which was more sweet, and that which took the most of my time.  The basic clafoutis is a simple country recipe that can be made easily and quickly; it is on many French restaurant menus while cherries are in season.  I remember well the cherry trees of the Bonnieux area in the south, bent with the mistral; and I can not make Clafoutis without that memory. 

The problem with Clafoutis is the presentation; the whole as it exits the oven is so pretty…..but then the cherries get split and it is cut up.  I think that J.R. (as Robuchon is known) did his clafoutis in individual ramekins with the crust.  This is a lot of work but this is also why he had three Michelin stars at his restaurant. 


Ines’s Summer Friend

Ines de la Fressange is very well-known in France, a former model and muse of Lagerfeld, chosen in 1989 as “Marianne,” embodiment of the French Republic.  Lagerfeld apparently did not like her Marianne decision, condemning it as “bougeouis, boring and provincial.”  No matter that Bardot and Deneuve were also previously chosen as Marianne.  In any case, she is an icon to French women.

Her new book, Parisian Chic; is $17 on Amazon.  It makes a sweet little gift, or reading for your beach bag, full of Ines’ advice, photos and drawings~


What caught my eye was her recommendation for a straw bag for summer~


Never mind the crocheted raffia bag she is carrying in the photo is Balenciaga and probably $1,500 or so….what else would Ines carry, after all~


In any case, welcome summer~  It is now officially season for white shoes, sandals, and “straw” bags! You can get yours from French Basketeer, of course… this weekend I had my first ever “sale” on select styles and onesie-twosies from the warehouse.  One woman bought 17 pieces.  We are still offering free shipping on all purchases; I will try to get a post up on the discount items, such as St. Remy in seagrass with black handles.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What We Ate

My family is rather spoilt; they love each holiday we celebrate together, but especially the food I prepare for them.  We are extremely close, yet our conversation is absolutely facilitated by what we eat and drink.  For Memorial Day we are enjoying barbeque chicken & ribs, every day of the weekend, along with the potato salad that my Mom and I make together, corn on the cob and other market veggies.  My family enjoys the dessert course most of all; which is ironic as I would rather have savory or a cheese plate.  But I love to produce new and seasonal desserts for them.  Last evening, mini chocolate tarts dressed with fresh blackberry compote~


Here are the tarts plain; I used a shortbread crust, and will have to post this recipe soon as it is the chocolate lover’s dream yet very simple~


In summer, what goes better with chocolate than lemon?  I filled the same shortbread tarts with lemon curd~


And we had the lemon-lavender pound cake piled high with lavender-infused whipped cream and blackberry compote~


In full summer you can pile on fresh berries ready to burst, or you can preserve them into a compote; in the early season such as this, I love to take half the berries and puree them with just enough sugar to balance the acidity of the berry, then strain the solids.  Add the remaining fresh berries, and you have a delicious topper to any cake, homemade or store-bought.  Here are the fresh blackberries on top of the puree; the berries were $2.50 for a basket in Corona del Mar market yesterday, the special~



Also on the dessert tray was lavender-infused crème brulee~


And just a few caramels, dusted with lavender-infused sea salt~


There is always something to learn, and a level of aspiration; Loic our Brittany Baker in Rancho Santa Fe brought a box of “brownies” (the French will call them “brunies") for Eugene at the market today, with a  topper of ganache~


This evening I made the classic clafoutis out of the lovely Nicolau cherries.  Tomorrow morning, I make the chef’s version.  I will post tomorrow re table décor and the clafoutis bake-off~

Friday, May 27, 2011

Red, White & Lavender Blue

Tonight I am starting my run-up to the Memorial Day Weekend.  Actually, I started last weekend, at the Rancho Santa Fe market.  In addition to golden and candystripe beets, tiny celery hearts, yellow and orange carrots from Sage Mountain Farm, which have been basically eaten all week by my family, I zeroed in on some luscious cherries from Nicolau Farms in Modesto.  Nicolau has about 50 goats and produces some amazing goat “chevre” cheese, but this week they brought a few “Coral” variety cherries they also grow on the farm~


Cherries are one of those fruits (mostly stone fruits, I think) that can not be forced any time other than “the season,” so that makes the produce all the more special.  I will have more recipes as the summer progresses, but while every other vendor has tart cherries, these are dark and delicious.  I will make two clafoutis with them this weekend.  They looked tempting and got a lot of comments, spilled on top of my basket in the booth Sunday; they had fresh green tree leaves attached; these were indeed just picked~


Certain weekends of the year, such as Memorial Day, call for American Food.  But that doesn’t stop me from incorporating a little bit of France into the rest of the meal.  I proposed a “lavender day” to Raquel, our Rancho Santa Fe (San Diego) market Manager, so this weekend I will test out a few new ideas on my family based on my beloved lavender, here on top of the Pennsylvania crates Raquel and I bought last week for the market display.  They are dated 1934 and the patina is beautiful~


I started this evening making a few gifties for some of my elderly friends and a few of the girls; tomorrow’s deliveries; baked goods are great gifts, especially for those who do not or can not cook; paper loaf pans are fantastic for gifts; you can even get them now online at Target.  You can cook up to 450 degrees in them, no mess, and a professional presentation; heck a boxed cake mix baked in these would make anyone happy!!~ 


I made a trio of lemon-lavender pound cakes; recipe at the end of this post~


When baked, in the paper molds, I add a few sprigs of lavender, an indication of “what it is” and also just a fresh and fragrant touch~


I set each cake in the paper mold on a doilie, then wrap in inexpensive petticoat tulle, as you know je deteste plastique; makes a pretty little presentation, wrapped with a little red white & blue ribbon?  You can trim the topknot as short or fluffy as you like~


Lemon Lavender Pound Cake~


2 sticks butter

6 tablespoons dried lavender (will post on this next week; fresh will be ok too but very pungent)

5 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups cake flour (Swansdown or typo 00 European)

3 tbs almond flour or French “powdered almonds”; another post!

1/2 tsp French sea salt (and yes, another post!)

2 tbs lemon zest

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Generous 1/3 cup lemon juice; you can adjust to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  Melt the butter and half the lavender; let rest for 15 minutes; strain and discard butter solids at the bottom and the lavender buds. 

In a mixer, beat the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar until very thick and fluffy; about 10 minutes. 

In a bowl, sift the flour and add the sea salt. 

Using a whisk, mix the lemon zest and a quarter of the flour mixture into the eggs and whisk gently.  Add the rest of the flour slowly. 

In a separate bowl, mix 1 cup of the batter with the melted butter and add the vanilla.  Add to the remaining batter and mix gently. 

Pour into the paper molds.  Bake until lightly golden on top.  I believe in not over-baking!!

In a pan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice and 1/4 cup water with the other half of the lavender.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and strain.  The sauce I get is lavender colored.  Brush the glaze over the cakes, inside the paper molds; this is not an overly “sweet” cake; serve with any kind of fresh fruit or berries and lots of whipped crème, e.g. something sweet.  This is a good dessert for those who do not like something '”overly sweet.” 

Be sure to stop by our Metis blog as well to see the collection of beautiful antique French copper~

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Featured in Southern Living

Our blue Antibes basket is featured in the current (June) issue of Southern Living; such a pretty cover, the blues & greens with a touch of yellow~

slcover[1] The basket is in the hands of style maven Heather Chadduck, Style Director of Coastal Living Magazine.  Heather featured the Rose Pink St. Tropez basket in an earlier issue.  Here she is with her Mother, “Suga,” who must be just as sweet as her name implies~    lspg1

~here is the next page of the layout, with the basket; I love seeing our products in the magazines; thank you to Heather and to the Editors; let me assure you, your readers love it too~  sl pg 2

Meanwhile, I spent the early morning planning out the weekend menus, then prepared to go spend the day doing inventory.  Before I left the house, I got busy making a few edits to the blog layout, as I have been focused on how to show off my photos better.  Blogger keeps upgrading things, so the old header is gonzo!  Still a work in progress; look for a few more tweaks in the weeks to come.  At least now you can see the photos better…

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crème Fraiche

Madame Simone runs a dairy not far from Beaune.  At our Saturday market, she sells her butter, crème fraiche and seasonal items such as cheese spread lightly flavored with garlic.  Her table space is very small; if you shop quickly you might miss it, but she is one of my first stops Saturday mornings.  She always has a line of shoppers (an excellent indication), and watching her deftly ladle the cream into the small white pots is fun to watch.  I used the cream for various dishes, including in a bite-size dessert packed with flavor: warm rhubarb compote, layered with fresh raspberries and crème fraiche, topped with a single strawberry.  Our guests proclaimed these to be the best and most flavorful berries ever, and I will agree~


Returning to Southern California, I realized that traditional dairy is something that is completely missing from our farmers markets.  I remember as a very young child having whole milk delivered to our door (and my sisters sometimes dropping the glass jars).  Alta Dena does indeed still deliver milk, but try to find raw, pasture-grazed cream, milk or butter.  There is no room in our area for pastures, it is all given over to development.  You can find it at select stores, but it comes from Fresno, hours away, with plenty of USDA warning labels, and at a dear price~


France of course has plenty of pastures, outside of the urban areas.  The flavor of the butter changes through the seasons, depending on the cows grazing; France talks of the buttercups of spring making the milk sweet; in any case, it is the greens of the grass translating into the milk of the cow.  

My mother grew up on a farm outside of Calgary, eating the cattle and livestock her father raised, eggs from their coop, the milk, crème and butter from their dairy cow “Milky Way,” and the vegetables from their own kitchen garden.  No one got sick, EVER, and at 75 my Mother has not a single cavity in her teeth or any other disease.  Her Mom is alive and well at 95 and the rest of the clan are 90’s and into their 100’s.   Hmmm…



We had an over-the-top dinner at a three-star Michelin restaurant on this trip; post soon, of course I photographed the butter, which was very yellow, light as air and impossibly delicious on our bread~


Mme. Simone’s is packaged in waxed paper, and costs oh, $2 for a tranche.  The “best” French butter comes from the Normandy town of Isigny-sur-Mer, it even has its own appelation; but I love local butter~


It’s interesting to me that America is so into milk,especially for children, because for the French,  I think it’s about beurre-crème fraiche-fromages.  Less milk.  French recipes call for various kinds of crème, including fleurette, liquide or epais.  The quality of the dairy of course affects the end result; the quiche and the pie crust in Beaune are better than Laguna; Simone’s butter rubs easily over a whole chicken even when slightly cold, whereas Trader Joe’s butter is not at all the same. 


The issue of raw dairy in California or the United States is complex, to say the least.  There are blogs and movies devoted to the subject.  Our commercial dairy cows I fear live a life of confinement, with the cows milked mechanically, and contamination an easy outcome.  No wonder the USDA decided that pastuerization (heat to kill the good and bad bacteria) as well as homogenization (to break down the fat globules) became the norm, and then add in government subsidies etc and you have a real nasty soup.  There are some groups buying “shares” of a local cow and sharing the milk and expenses.  There are some havens such as the coop Rawsome in Venice, Los Angeles.  They were raided by the USDA and others last fall, guns blazing.   Check them out online here, this is totally crazy stuff over raw food. 

I’m tempted to go check out Rawesome in LA.  But in the interim, I show you here the Trader Joe’s butter, which is labeled in accordance to standards, First Quality.  Oxymoron?  OK in some pastry, but not like the real deal.  Clockwise, my own whipped butter, the Organic Pastures 1 lb $12 (!!) tub of butter, with a taste I do not even like, and lastly, my own butter flavored with raspberry~


Some schools show the kids how to make butter from crème; shake it up in a jar.   I bought a $12 (!!) quart of pasture-fed raw crème, which I decided to whip, not shake, in a copper cul de poule~


Luckily I am ambidextrous and can whip cream with both hands; this was a lot of work and in the sink was not too much mess, but in the end the curds separated from the buttermilk and I was left with butter~


Some of which I mixed with strained raspberry sauce to make raspberry butter last weekend.


I am going to call Madame Simone before my next trip to Beaune and ask for a tour.  I hope she will oblige.  I have been casually surveying my friends, do you have friends with milk cows, can you find raw milk?

For my overseas followers, Australia, Russia, Latvia and Germany, and more….please comment on your dairy!!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A 50th Brunch

Just because I decided to go to France during the week of Mother’s Day and my eldest sister’s 50th Birthday doesn’t stop my family from asking me to make them brunch.  God forbid they would make their own brunch while I am gone….no, they just decided to wait until I got back. 

Yesterday was the appointed day for brunch for Mom & Sis and the whole gang, so I went to the Corona del Mar market, set up my booth, then handed it over to my dear helper Linda, while I quickly loaded up three baskets of fresh eggs, produce and citrus.  Did you notice, I have new baskets?  These are very vintage, from the Paris flea market; I positively adore them and use them weekly now for my shopping and display~

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We started with the usual mimosa bar, but rather than separating the citrus varieties, I set one of my nieces up with the juicer and made a blend of Orange-Strawberry, Tangelo, Clementine and Navel, while my sweet Miss Biscuit guarded the carrots and veggies at the kitchen door~

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Instead of buying flowers at the market, I cut masses of roses from the garden early in the morning, and set the vases in every room of the house and on the round tables on the patio for breakfast.  Can you top the scent and color of a home-grown rose?  They made my Mom very happy, and that was what counted.  Here clockwise Johann Strauss (pale pink), Yves Piaget, Sheila’s Perfume and Scentimental~

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Scentimental and Yves Piaget again, with the white “old rose” Bagatelle, one of my favorites. 

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This one, I do not remember the name, but it has a heavenly perfume and of course I love the deep color and voluminous petals~

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Brunch itself was rather “bare bones” for me; pancakes with fresh blueberries, and eggs benedict, which my sister specifically requested, with Julia’s Hollandaise sauce~

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After brunch, I went back to the market to break down the booth with one of my nieces, then home again for more partying, more cooking.  The evening before, I had cooked the meat for a blanquette de veau, with various aromatic veggies including fresh garlic, carrots, herbs and baby celery from Sage Mountain.  Read this, if you buy much celery; I will only buy organic celery.

Rather than just a simple white stew, I added the best spring veggies I could find at the market that morning, which included thin green asparagus.  I also bought fat green and medium purple (sweet) asparagus, the trio for comparison~

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Added to this, each cooked separately, were small Japanese turnips, orange and yellow carrots (peeled and halved here, with a tip of the green showing), caramelized white and purple spring onions, leeks, asparagus, and cremini and shitake mushrooms, all topped with a light crème sauce~

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It’s a little sad, my family considers this “normal fare.”  So I have to keep trying something new and mixing it up a little.  No wonder they wait for me to come home to cook for them, right? 

The nouveaute of the brunch was scones.  Not just any scones…scones stuffed with fresh blueberries and raspberries, then baked, and topped with homemade butter, which was flavored with raspberry sauce.

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For the scones, I used this recipe.  Very simple, but I made some modifications: use half the cinnamon, I added about 1 cup of fine granola for extra texture and taste, and used 1/2 cup whipping cream for the milk/cream ingredient.  I divided the dough in half, then formed each into a flat circle, which I cut into 6 triangles, like slicing a pie.  Slice each triangle in half like a sandwich and add the fruit; use your fingers to seal the fruit in at the edges. 

I brushed with egg yolk and water, for a golden top, then dusted with vanilla sugar (or use a few free packs of Sugar in the Raw).

The butter was the clincher; look for a post on it later this week.