Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Fall Meal & A Few Recipes

I have to admit that every time R calls from Beaune to tell me what he ate for dinner or what he found that was so amazing at the market on Saturday, it’s easy to feel the twinge of longing for all that I love about France and Burgundy.  And that would be mostly, ahem, all that is available to eat and cook.  In addition to black truffles and cèpe mushrooms, fantastic root vegetables and slices of amazing pumpkins, the fall season in Beaune begins a happy rotation of all those beautiful foods that we haven’t seen in oh, nine months.  Definitely a time to rediscover foods that are like old friends, like my favorite root vegetables.  My brain likes to shop in French, and as I stroll through the markets or stores here, their French names always pop into my mind first: celeriac or celeri-rave (celery root), or panais (parsnip). 

Shopping in California for the favorite foods we eat in France is not as difficult as most people would believe.  The foods are here; really good food is here in Southern California, but you have to know what you are looking for, and understand what to do with it.  One day I will be in Beaune more, a lot more, much more of the year.  But for now I remind myself, I am here in Laguna most of the time, and honestly, that’s not so bad~


Last night we had our first rain of the season.  Glorious, beautiful rain.  We are so starved for rain here it’s incredible.  And with one speeding drop of rain, most people stay home, or at least get a late start.  They are probably searching the closet for warm clothes to wear or something; it’s amazing how empty the farmers markets are early in the morning after an overnight rain.  It was a good day to poke around at the Irvine market. 


There was plenty of goodness today; I brought home a bunch of these Crimson Gold apples. They are small, which can be helpful, and they are super tasty.  They are organic of course…and they look to me like what an apple should look like.  Shine them up with a brush of a cloth.


I am always looking for something new and seasonal and interesting at the various markets.  Today I found Sterling Meyers Lemons.  That means they are still Meyers, but they are picked a little early, so they are slightly more sour than sweet, and they have a greenish-yellow peel.  If you let these sit around, they will turn deep yellow.  But for various reasons (like you want a tart and not sweet lemon), it’s great to snap these up now.  These are from the Cal Poly Pomona students.  They know their produce and I love to shop their stand at Irvine market.  A handful of these came home with me.


I had guests for a late afternoon dinner today, so when I got home from the markets and shopping, I got busy.  First up, candied citrus.  You can use one of two kinds of zesters.  The standard ribbon zester is also sometimes called a “stripper” and makes a nice chewy slice; I also use the smaller zester a lot too; this gives you all rind and no pith.  This is a great way to add a hint of lemon without much lemon, in a salad for example.  But today I used it to zest the Meyers lemons.


I used the larger zester to make matchstick-sized pieces of grapefruit rind.


Simmer the zest pieces in water to soften them.  In the case of the fine zest, that’s a few minutes.  For the grapefruit ribbons, it’s about forty five minutes.  You want a little chew, unless you want to make gummy worms.  You will notice that if you cook the grapefruit pieces slowly they will not curl and they will retain their citrus flavor but be soft enough to eat.  Blot dry on paper towels.  Mine looked like this~


Roll the pieces in fine sugar, then let sit about ten minutes, and toss again in the sugar. If you want a less-sweet zest, let the cooked pieces sit for about twenty minutes after cooking; the zest will dry out a bit and less sugar will stick to it.  Save the sugar that is left over, we will use it later.  The lemon looked like this and was subtle and delicious~


I’d put those on top of a nice pastry, maybe a tarte with cream; later in this post I’m going to show you what I did with them today.  The grapefruit, meanwhile, looked like this.  Sweet and tangy…these need to be on your holiday dessert tray…probably with some chocolate.


Today I wanted to put the candied zest on top of some butter cookies.  Are you ready for the recipe?

To be most accurate, for many pastry recipes you should use a food scale.  You can get one for $12 on Ebay with free shipping; this is the one I use, go HERE.  It is great, and converts to grams, ounces or pounds; you can set any bowl or container on top and “tare it out” or reset it to zero with the bowl on top.  It is small and tucks into a drawer….if you don’t have one, I highly recommend it.  Anyway back to the butter cookie recipe; you need:

170 grams unsalted butter, softened
110 grams powdered sugar
6 grams sea salt
180 grams all-purpose flour
small pour of vanilla extract, about a teaspoon or 12 grams

Start by measuring out your ingredients. 


This is a very easy recipe!  It will take you longer to read this post than it would for me to just show you, and so I may have a video version of this for you soon.  You can use a mixer, but the best way to make these cookies is with a simple pastry scraper.  Contrary to what many people think, you don’t need to overwork the butter.  It will take you five minutes to make this dough by hand.  I use a pastry scraper from Dehillerin Paris (hehe of course!) but you can get one for $3 at Sur La Table HERE.  It’s a flexible little tool that you can use to scrape bowls and such, but it’s very handy for pastry.  Do not get the rigid “bench scraper” type of scraper; you want the cheap little plastic variety.  I will see if I can buy some of these from Dehillerin soon and have them shipped over if you want one from Paris.

Place the softened butter in a bowl, and using a pastry scraper, cream the butter lightly; this means, use the scraper to mash and smooth the butter against your bowl; add the sugar and mix in, with a circular motion.  Add the salt and vanilla and mix quickly to blend; add the flour and mix quickly to blend.  It does not have to be perfect and it does not have to form a ball; just get the ingredients to come together. 


Turn the dough out on a piece of parchment paper or wax paper.  It will look like this.  I have a sprinkle of powdered sugar underneath but that’s not really necessary.


Use your hands to form the dough into a log shape.  Roll the parchment paper up around it and continue to roll it like a rolling pin to make the long thinner and longer.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect round shape; you can smooth it out later.


Close off the ends like a candy wrapper, like this, and pop into the refrigerator for an hour or so.  The great thing is that you can make the recipe up to this point and put the roll in the freezer with a little plastic wrap around it….instant holiday cookies when you need them….


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  After the dough has chilled, you can refine the shape a little by rolling it again on the counter while it’s still wrapped up.  Try for a round shape.  Unwrap the dough and slice it into discs.  Place the discs on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.


The twist today is to top the cookies with the candied Meyers lemon zest.  You can also use the leftover sugar you rolled the zest in, which is still slightly lemon-ey.  Into the oven, like this~


20 minutes later….


Today I made a few variations.  I used candied grapefruit in an X-shape, Meyers lemon zest with lemon sugar and poppyseed, and vanilla-lavender sugar with a sprinkle of lavender flowers (my favorite).  You can make lavender sugar by putting lavender flowers and sugar in a jar, grind them together in a mortar and pestle, or just go buy it at Savory Spice Store HERE.  My Dad’s favorite is either the lemon or the grapefruit.  I guess he couldn’t decide, because he at 13 out of 14 of the first cookies I made.  These are great cookies!

While the cookies were baking, I set the table and finished the rest of the food.  Our starter today was an Italian cheese I’m pretty much crazy for….Rocchetta….it’s equal parts cow/sheep/goat milk and it’s soft, mild, slightly tangy and very, very delicious.  Today over a cracker, wilted greens and beets, dressed with a blackberry sauce and topped with more Sterling Meyer Lemon zest (made with a fine plane zester).  I will make this for our Holiday cooking class coming up in a few weeks in Laguna.  Pretty and very tasty…my guests went crazy for this plate, and I was proud of it~


The main event of the day, though, was the falling-off-the-bone seven hour leg of lamb, cooked with homemade stock, half a bottle of wine, garlic and vegetables from the farmers markets.  This will also be part of the Holiday cooking class since this is the perfect holiday meal; tasty for a cool winter day, a make-ahead meal that lets me spend time with my guests, and colorful. 


So yes, eating is still very good in SoCal…stay tuned for more holiday recipes and ideas in the next few weeks….

Monday, October 27, 2014

China Cupboard Reorg

After the dinner party last weekend, it took me a few days to get through the rest of the dishes and glasses.  Everything I use for a party is hand-wash, and after a cooking class for 6-8 I can seriously get through all the dishes in an hour.  But for this party, even though my awesome guests got through most of the plates and cooking pots the night of, there was just a lot of mess, a lot of dishes.  We used cups and plates for appetizers, plates for the entrée, for dinner, and for salad and multiple dessert plates for everyone.  Lots of plates and dishes!  I talked to a friend today and we agreed I am somewhere between  the laid-back California girl and the laissez-faire French-shrug Francophile.  Honestly, if you get upset that there are few night-before dishes left over the next day, you need to refocus.  I mean, who can worry about dishes when there are fantabulous guests to talk to, herbal tea and lattes, Chopin and Strauss to listen to, and these adorable faces to look at~


Photo, which I adore, by Lorie via La Contessa of Vintage Hen House.  Seriously, look at those faces?  In between tea and coffee and brioche French toast, we fed the dogs bacon and snapped IG photos.  Forget the dishes~~FORGET them!  Thankfully, none of my guests had a care….we were all about spending time with each other and enjoying the moment.

Anyway, several days later, it was time to get to the business of putting everything back in the cupboard.  This is how the dining room looked.


A few of the dishes had made it back into the cupboard; this is the finer stuff, not the everyday dishes, which are in the kitchen, and the buffet holds still other stuff that gets used rarely.  But it’s definitely time to reorganize this space.


A short time later, everything was out of the cupboard, and on the table, on the floor and in the hall.  China galore.  It’s good for me to do this once a year or so, because sets and like-pieces get separated, and this is time to put it back properly.


I have purged various pieces over the years, and added others.  Sometimes I regret getting rid of my collection of Wedgewood and English pieces from London and New York, but that’s water under the bridge.  I have ended up with a set of dishes that are mostly French, with a little English and little Japanese added in.  Oh, and some nice American glass pieces and a lot of teacups that were wedding gifts that belonged to each of my Grandmothers.  We used many of those this last weekend at dinner; it’s like having my Nana and Grandma come to my dinner; they would approve.


God it looks like a lot though, towers of plates.  It’s ok though, I’m ready for dinner for fifty. When we gonna do that?  Oh, maybe next spring….dishes, check.  Glassware, check…..


I can never have enough white Limoges with simple or fancy gold rims.  I can change the look of a dinner in so many other ways, but the food always looks awesome on a clean white plate.  But I need smaller plates, for appetizers and salads and desserts, so…, I just need lots and lots and lots of plates, what can I say?


One of my guests said she had never seen so many plates in all her life.  OUI!  But I love and use it all, so isn’t that ok? I’m not really asking for approval, it’s me.  I have a rule, if you use it all, it’s ok, and all of this gets used.  There is the occasional attrition, but I don’t mind that.  An excuse to buy more….


Elsewhere in the cupboard are various small pieces….the small pink slipper shoe belonged to my Grandma; though it looks French, it’s marked Made in Germany.  I don’t get what these sweet little show pieces are about, but maybe someone can explain it to me.  The small pitchers and teacups are used constantly, as we love tea and brunch in this family, and then use them for soup or desserts or whatever….


I have the top three shelves done; next up, the linens and other items below.


The small pieces are layered in front,high-low from French sterling to $1 egg cups.


At the end of the day, here is the finished cupboard….I am happy!


Now, on to the next cabinet!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fall Farm to Table Soiree

There are parties, and then there are parties…meals eaten and moments shared with friends that you will remember for the rest of your life.  This last weekend was one of those.  Someone called me brave to invite a few quasi-strangers to come spend the weekend at our home, and have a dinner soiree in their honor.  Well, I just trust my intuition I guess, and that is always confirmed by my dogs, who gave our guests the full kissy terrier welcome.  Roll out that red carpet… my guests and we were going to party the weekend!!!  The petals that dropped off the garden roses just went right on the table….we roll with it here…make use and have fun was our motto~


Not having a staff, I had friends descend, and we had a work party and a whole lot of fun and a little instruction.  The scene was finally set.  Mo and Linda, you are the BEST.  Love you ladies and can’t wait to be in Beaune with you…it is significantly easier than this, I promise, but WOW was this fun??


I made a run to Los Angeles Flower Mart for some flowers, ok a bit obstructive but they looked great….hired the chairs, GOLD as we have in Paris.  My Dad said it looked like an insane asylum and Ophelia should parade at any moment.  But the rest of us, I think, thought it was divine.  Yes, I am a hopeless romantic,and this is my style…..grey tulle x 300 yards, Limoges and vintage crystal, linen, French sterling, and fragrant pink garden roses.  Hand-picked guests who will connect.  Oui.  My style~


I was absolutely blown away by my guests and their generosity and their joy.   Like long-lost sisters, Elizabeth from Vintage Henhouse, Jennifer from A Well Styled Life and Terri from La Dolfina all came from San Francisco, and we had dinner the night before, so we could visit a little.  Only a little…we have to get together soon or go to Beaune to really visit.  But OH what ladies… do you know how I LOVE you!!!!  For the Saturday dinner, we started with pumpkin soup in a real pumpkin that burnishes to a nice shiny color as in France.  This was just one of a bunch of appetizers.  Olive branches in the candle hurricanes, my touch.  lots of Pretty for my girlfriends~…Terri’s vase of roses next to the pumpkin were so lovely~


We had dinner, a lengthy, fantastic dinner.  I didn’t get any pics of it.  Someone will post the menu or I will later.  I spent weeks working it out and then redid it all based on what was fresh at various farmers markets that week.  Dang we ate well…..I came out at the end of the meal to a thunderous clapping of hands….oui, it was good and I love that you all enjoyed it… all I want is for you all to be happy and eat and drink well this evening!

I know some thought we were slaving away in the kitchen.  In reality, we were having our own party, a food-fest and great joy rolling out the pasta and assembling the salads.  And speaking of great Joy, we sent eight year old Joy our guest out to “parade the pasta” which she did to perfection.  As we rolled and cut it it was hung over chairs and French cloths in the kitchen, screen grab below from Mary’s Instagram, who thought this was a real hoot.  Yes, we could hire staff, but this is infinitely better.  This is how we party, together. 


My most awesome guests insisted on doing dishes the night of.  The next day, more to be done, but not too bad; it was manageable.


As we inhaled the aromas of silver dollar Eucalyptus gifted by Mary….


and as we listed to Chopin and had our tea and coffee together….it was a lovely way to start the day with Elizabeth aka LaContessa  and Jennifer of A Well Styled Life….love love love love love you ladies….


We had the company of the dogs too; providing us with a little entertainment along the way…screen grab from Jennifer’s Instagram….


Meanwhile marble and Eucalyptus are divine….we are still enjoying them and thinking of the party several days later.


The tables were cleaned and yesterday I took the tulle down, until next time.


I candied the rose petals from these roses to use at the next cooking class.  These are beautiful little reminders of the party.


Meanwhile I will continue to relive the party a little…


And continue to enjoy my sweet gifts brought by my friends.  Terri had it nailed….she brought me so many amazing things that you will see pop up here and on Instagram….a Bonjour flag?  Yes Please!  Love this!!! 



Making memories….and planning new ones.  I think we will be on party hiatus until the spring, but now we have got something else in mind, something very fun and slightly different. 


You can see more pics of the party and prep on my Instagram feed HERE.

Next up is my Christmas/Holiday 2014 workshop and cooking class….look for more images and details here soon…