WSJ Has Kind Words for Cream Puffs

 

Wall Street Journal’s Gastronomy columnist Aram Bakshian, Jr. wrote a very flattering review of The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs(as well as 4 other cookbooks) in this past weekend’s (December 14 and 15) edition. What a lovely Christmas present!

The French Cook: Cream Puffs & Eclairs

The French Cook: Cream Puffs & Eclairs a new release, October 1, 2013 (Gibbs Smith)

Here’s an excerpt from the column:

“There’s a bit more puff to the pastries described in Holly Herrick’s “The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs” (Gibbs Smith, 127 pages, $21.99). The latest addition to its publisher’s volumes on aspects of French cooking, this is a slender tome about a fattening yet exquisitely airy and oh-so-French dessert genre: cream puffs and éclairs. The lightness comes from the choux pastry base of simmered butter, water, flour and eggs, which Julia Child described as “one of the easiest pastries to make,” once you get the hang of it. Whatever its size or shape, the choux pastry serves as a model home for hundreds of fruit, custard, crème, cheese and chocolate fillings. Many of them are included here, from quick-cooking fruit sauces like Coulis aux Framboise (raspberry sauce intensified with crème de cassis) to the multilayered flavors of Profiteroles (cream puffs) with Salted Caramel Macadamia Nut Ice Cream and Warm Caramel Sauce (a great combination of a lot of sweetness with just a touch of savoriness). Ms. Herrick, an award-winning pastry chef herself, is the ideal docent for this classic gallery of French desserts, and her recipes, for even the most complicated items, are concise and clear.”

Mr. Bakshian also rightly states at the top of his piece that “Christmas remains a bastion of culinary custom, a time to open our hearts, loosen our belts, and enjoy food rather than obsess about it.” Indeed! Wishing you and yours an especially warm, loving, beautiful and delicious Christmas and good tidings for 2014.

Bon appetit!

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Merci Bonjour Colorado and Holiday Tidings

 

Thank you to Maribeth Clemenete at Bonjour Colorado for taking the time to talk with me about The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs, making pastry, France and Charleston’s dynamic restaurant scene. You can listen to the full 30 minute link here:

http://bonjourcolorado.com/2013/12/sweet-and-savory-holiday-baking-with-holly-herrick/

It’s hard to believe Christmas is just two weeks away!

CHRISTMASTREEIf you’re still looking for that special something for the cookbook lover in your life, please consider one of my cookbooks. If you’re interested in a signed copy (copies) mailed directly to you, please message me here with the best contact information for me to reach you, and we’ll make it happen.

The French Cook: Sauces and The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs are beautiful together as a gift for lovers of French cooking in particular. I sell the pair at a 15% discount price of $42 for both plus shipping.

The French Cook: Cream Puffs & Eclairs

The French Cook: Cream Puffs & Eclairs a new release, October 1, 2013 (Gibbs Smith)

The French Cook: Sauces (Gibbes Smith, March 1, 2013) by Holly Herrick

The French Cook: Sauces (Gibbes Smith, March 1, 2013) by Holly Herrick

They would look beautiful under the tree and yield many happy and delicious returns for years to come.  Wishing you and yours a beautiful, delicious, safe and happy holiday season and a fabulous 2014.

Warmly,

Holly

 

 

 

 

 

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Roasted Grape Tomato Soup with Thyme Croutons, Bacon and Creme Fraiche

In between holidays, I’ve been having fun in my kitchen experimenting with French soups for my upcoming book on the same subject. One of the things that makes soup French (aside from being delicious) is the attention to detail in the garnishes and in the presentation. This fantastically layered and delicious soup gets treated to a garnish trifecta with housemade croutons and creme fraiche as well as bacon. In the book it is in the cold soup chapter, but it is just as delicious served piping hot. To go that route,  instead of following the directions for cold below, just be sure to reheat the soup thoroughly before serving.  I love the idea of serving this brilliantly red, white and green soup as a start to Christmas dinner. It would be the perfect prelude to a standing beef roast. Adapted from  (draft version)  The French Cook: Soups and Stews (Gibbs Smith, Fall 2014).

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Roasting already sweet, available year-round grape tomatoes makes these royal-red gems even sweeter and a decadent flavor backdrop for fresh thyme-cloaked croutons and salty bacon. A swirl of crème fraiche (recipe and method to follow) on top delivers a crowning French flavor twist.

Sharing Tomato Soup around the holiday table is a great way to start the meal.

Sharing Tomato Soup around the holiday table is a great way to start the meal.

Roasted Grape Tomato Soup with Thyme Croutons, Bacon and Creme Fraiche

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

1 quart (4 cups) fresh red (or substitute another color such as yellow) grape tomatoes, thoroughly rinsed
1 large shallot, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar (or substitute cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper

For the croutons:

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 small, day-old baguette, cut into 1/4” cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
To garnish:
4 slices bacon, browned, drained and coarsely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup crème fraiche (recipe follows this one, below)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 450F. In a roasting pan or full-sized, edged baking sheet, combine the tomatoes, shallot, vinegar, and olive oil, tossing to coat evenly. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Top with the fresh thyme stalks. Roast in the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to pop and implode, tossing 15 minutes into the cooking. Leave the oven on (for the croutons) and discard the thyme branches. Spoon the roasted tomatoes, shallot and any roasting juices into a food processor fitted with a metal blade or a blender. Use the chicken stock to deglaze the hot roasting pan, stirring up any browned bits. Add the stock to the processor/blender. Blend until chunky smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn into a bowl, cover and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

To make the croutons, toss together the thyme, bread cubes, olive oil and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Turn out onto a small baking sheet and roast in the pre-heated 450 oven until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, tossing once. Set aside to cool. To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls, top each with a dollop (or drizzle) of crème fraiche, 4 or 5 croutons, 1/2 teaspoon bacon, and a drizzle of fresh thyme leaves.

Make Your Own Crème Fraiche

Crème Fraiche, a thick, fermented whole cream, is the darling of Dieppe in the milk and apple rich region of Normandy, France. Though increasingly easier to find in the United States, it can still be a challenge. For a more authentic and easier crème fraiche when not in France, it’s best to make your own. In addition to its distinctive creamy flavor, crème fraiche (made with heavy cream) will not break when cooked into soups or sauces and makes a beautiful garnish for any soup, hot or cold.

Bon appetit!

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Stress-Free and Decadent Thanksgiving Dessert

Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but let’s face it, not everyone loves apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, and not everyone loves to bake or get involved with making or rolling out pie pastry.

That’s where this decadent tart comes into your Thanksgving day stress-free dessert plan. Except for a quick bake to set the butter and chocolate Graham cracker crust, it’s completely oven-free. The filling, a blend of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff is blended together and chilled, something that can be done a few days ahead. Just before serving, top it off with a thick layer of freshly whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate chips. It’s a Reese’s lovers dream, with whipped cream on top that’s sure to please.

Peanut Butter Fluff and Chocolate Tart. Photo by Helene Dujardin.

Peanut Butter Fluff and Chocolate Tart. Photo by Helene Dujardin.

Adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet by Holly Herrick (Gibbs Smith, October 1, 2011).

Peanut Butter Fluff & Chocolate Tart

Equipment Needed: One 9″ X 1″ round tart pan with removable bottom

For the chocolate crust:

1 stick soft, unsalted butter

3 cups crumbled chocolate Graham Cracker Crust (about 1 1/2 of the individually wrapped plastic packets)

For the filling:

1 cup creamy peanut butter

4 ounces (1/2 cup) cream cheese

3/4 cup marshmallow cream (suggest Kraft’s Jet-Puffed brand)

1/4 cup light brown sugar

For the topping:

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the crust. To crumble the Graham Crackers, crush the packets with a rolling pin and continue smashing them (this part is fun!) until they resemble the size of tiny peas. Combine the cracker crumbs in a small bowl. Using your hands, combine the butter and the crumbs until they’re evenly mixed. Press the crust into the bottom of the tart pan forming an even thickness and pressing the crumbs into the edges of the tart pan. It’s o.k. if it looks a little rough and rustic. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the parchment and pie weights and continue baking until the crust starts to dry out and crisp, another 20  minutes or so. Remove from the oven and set aside for 20 minutes to cool. Chill to refrigerate. (Note: The crust can chill, covered with plastic wrap overnight or for several hours).

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Combine the peanut butter, cream cheese, marshmallow cream and light brown sugar in a medium sized bowl. Whisk to combine, or blend with a hand held mixer utnil very fluffy and smooth.

When the crust is completely chilled, add the filling.  Smooth with a spatula to meet the edges of the tart. Refrigerate at this point for several hours or overnight, if desired. Within one or two hours of serving, prepare the whipped cream. Combine the cold cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium sized, cold bowl and beat with a whisk or blender until firm peaks have formed. All at once, place the whipped cream on top of the filled tart. Spread with a spatula to level it out, leaving a 1/2″ visible border of the peanut butter filling. Drizzle the chocolate chunks over the whipped cream. Chill for at least one hour and up to three hours before serving.

Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Day After Thanksgiving Turkey and Crimini Soup

Last week, a full two weeks before Thanksgiving was even scheduled to arrive, I got an intense craving for turkey. No, not the deli variety, and not the roasted kind you can buy. I needed to have a fragrant bird filling up my house with its gorgeous aromas while I worked on my new French soup cookbook upstairs in my office.

So, I went to the grocery and bought a small, five pound, bone-in turkey breast. I had to wait a day to thaw it in the fridge, and then I got busy doing what I always do for any turkey I’m about to roast. I rub mine down with olive oil, season generously all over with ground black pepper and kosher salt, and nestle a couple of pats of butter under the skin of the breast.  I start mine in a hot, 425F oven and let it cook for about 20 minutes, or until it starts to form a kind of golden “crust” within which the seasoning is embedded. Then, I reduce the heat to 325F, and start basting it with a combination of 1 cup white wine, 1 cup chicken stock, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, whisked together. I baste (or return the love back to the turkey)  every 20 minutes, spooning the flavorful pan juices over the bird along the way. Stop cooking the turkey when the center of the breast reads 160F and let it rest, lightly covered with tin foil, for at least 30 minutes. This whole process, at 20 minutes per pound, took less than 2 hours.

Then, I started carving the juicy, tender white meat away from the bone for the week of turkey sandwiches I enjoyed the past several days.  Never one to endorse wasting food or flavor, I coarsely chopped the remaining carcass and put it in a large stock pot with a quartered onion, a couple of stalks of celery, a carrot, 2 bay leaves, and enough water to cover the contents . I brought it up to a boil, reduced to a simmer, and cooked it ever so slowly, uncovered for about 6 hours, skimming off any “scum” as it rose to the top.  The result was a gorgeous, clear, fragrant stock.

So, a little bit early, I had on-hand exactly what you will have on-hand the day after Thanksgiving. Plenty of turkey and stock to put to good use. The obvious solution is a fragrant, light and delicate soup. Because the book I’m working on uses French technique and method, I cut up all of the vegetables very finely, into what is called a brunoise. This is a tiny 1/8″ dice. It looks pretty and allows all of the vegetables to cook quickly and for the same amount of time. A petite dice of warm croutons on top finishes it off in a very French way for this wonderfully American holiday.  Because basically everything is prepped ahead, it comes together in just about 20 minutes. Bon appetit! If you’re careful in your planning, you should still have plenty of roast turkey for sandwiches. This soup uses only about 2 cups.

Day After Thanksgiving Soup

Day After Thanksgiving Soup

 

Recipe

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and very finely chopped

2 large stalks celery very finely chopped

2 large carrots, peeled and very finely chopped

2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed into a paste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups very finely chopped crimini mushrooms (Note: Remove any dirt with a damp paper towel and pull out any tough stems before cutting.)

1 1/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage leaves

1/4 cup dry vermouth

6 cups reserved turkey stock

2 cups turkey breast, skin removed and cut into 1/4″ cubes

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves finely chopped

For the croutons:

1 cup dried white bread, such as baguette, crust removed and cut into 1/4″ cubes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage leaves

Roast turkey on Thanksgiving using method described in the front of this recipe. After the meat’s been cut off the bone, reserve the carcass and prepare the stock using the method in the front of this recipe and reserve the stock and the turkey meat separately in the refrigerator. The following day, proceed as follows.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic and a light dusting of salt and pepper. Stir to coat, reduce heat to medium, and sweat the vegetables for 5 to 8 minutes or until they’re softened. Add the chopped crimini, dried sage and stir to coat. Add the vermouth, stir and increase heat to medium high. Reduce the vermouth to a glaze, another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the reserved turkey stock and cubed turkey meat. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a simmer over medium low heat. Cook for 20 minutes to soften the veggies and bring the flavors together. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Meanwhile, to prepare the croutons, melt the butter and the oil together over medium high heat in a saute pan. When sizzling, add the cubed bread, salt, pepper and dried sage. Toss to coat evenly. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking the croutons, tossing, until golden brown on all sides. Reserve warm.

Serve the soup very hot in shallow bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of freshly chopped rosemary and arrange a pyramid of warm croutons in the center of each bowl just before serving.

Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Press for The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs

Not to toot my own “choux,” but am pleased to share the happy news that at barely one month since its release, The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs (Gibbs Smith, 10/1/2013) is getting noticed by critical media and cookbook enthusiasts.

Jamie Schler of Huffington Post says of the book in her column Huffpost Taste:

“Most of us think of the chocolate eclair and the cream puff as delightful little French pastries to pick up from the corner bakery on a trip to Paris but much too fussy to make in our own kitchens. Holly Herrick’s newest cookbook is an exploration deep into the world of choux and quickly debunks the myth that this best-known French pastry is something too complicated for the home baker. She walks us through the art of making choux and then gives us recipes for every filling imaginable…”

Profiterole with Salted Caramel Macadamia Ice Cream and Hot Caramel Sauce. Photo by Alexandra DeFurio.

Profiterole with Salted Caramel Macadamia Ice Cream and Hot Caramel Sauce. Photo by Alexandra DeFurio.

This profiterole combo (left) just happens to be one of my favorites.

Thank you, Jamie. For a link to her complete article as well as reviews for several other cookbooks, click below.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-schler/holiday-gifts-cookbooks_b_4225964.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

The Zebra Has Spoken

About two years ago, I started seeing posts of the most adorable stuffed zebra on Facebook and elsewhere. His name is ZeBot-Planet Doof and his mission is to help children get excited about cooking and to better understand where their food comes from and how to prepare it. The core ingredient? Fun! That’s what Ze-Bot is all about, and he’s adorable to boot.

ZeBot and the Shoe Pastries

ZeBot and the Shoe Pastries

 

That’s him to the left, sitting in some borrowed “shoes” next to his “choux” pastry.

ZeBot and his creator/partner in crime, the ever talented Laura Martin Bacon, dedicated their blog yesterday to making choux pastry and they used The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs and me as their teacher.

The result is an amazingly creative and wonderfully fun piece showing ZeBot navigating the (at first) confusing world of choux pastry, which he eventually masters, despite the complicated matter of his hooves. There is an award-worthy  video showing ZeBot grooving to Elvis and Blue Suede Shoes.

ZeBot even called the book “brilliant.” I think he’s one very smart zebra.

Thanks ZeBot and Laura. The link to the complete blog and video follows:

http://zebot.org/2013/11/12/zemystery-of-zeshoe-pastry/

Go ahead and join his page if you love fun and teaching children great stuff. I did!

As always, happy cooking. Look for a soup recipe posting soon. I’m busy making delicious soups and stews for the next book, The French Cook: Soupes, Daubes and Potages.

 

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Culinarian Williamsburg

I’ve had the happy occasion to spend a fair amount of time in Williamsburg, VA in recent months for book signings and to visit a very special someone. Experiencing this celebrated Colonial American town morph from the bright sun and hot days of late August into the muted hues and chilly nights of early October has increased my fervor for fife and drum corps and tricorn hats while simultaneously stunting my fear of ubiquitous, bland tourist food.

While all are plentiful, Williamsburg and her smart, talented restauranteurs have largely taken the high road away from stodgy corn pudding, stale ale, and fast food restaurants. This is especially true in Merchants Square, a stones throw from the hallowed, beautiful William and Mary campus and in the heart of the Colonial hustle and bustle. There, on and around Duke of Gloucester Street, shine three oustanding examples of some of Williamsburg’s culinarian best.

Fat Canary

Purely a family affair, this classically French-inspired restaurant with a penchant for local, seasonal produce, is an extension of neighboring The Cheese Shop and The Trellis Restaurant, just across the street.  All trace their origins back to the Power family, which are in one way or another affiliated with each eatery. Fat Canary’s Executive Chef Thomas Power, Jr. deftly borrows from his CIA culinary training and travels around the world to create a brief, but power-packed menu. Rappahannock oysters dance with sweet onion, tomato and sweet peppers in one starter, while nutty, buttery seared foe gras is served with hazelnut bread toast points and tart/sweet blackberry coulis in another; both emblems of Power’s knack for balancing French technique with local ingredients. Wine selections and pairings are handled expertly by a professional yet relaxed staff, which blends beautifully with the wooden, sage-colored walls, and comfortable banquettes in the intimate dining room. Not to be missed here – any and all things slow cooked and braised, in particular the Fred Flinstone-sized lamb shank, capable of seducing even the most practiced gourmande with its layered nuance of flavor which extends right down to the towering bone. Reservations highly recommended.  Dinner only.

Meanwhile, during the day, don’t miss a visit to the adjoining cheese shop. All 9,000 square feet brimming with deliciousness – international cheeses, Virginia ham, fresh breads, sandwiches, and downstairs, a wine lover’s cellar dream. Pack it all up for a picnic across the way on the ample greens of William and Mary. Or, cross the street to The Trellis and dig into some of their hearty soup and sandwich combos, served in a series of rooms decorated with sophisticated swirl of mosaic tiles and amber-hued seating. The Trellis Grilled cheese, an irresistable heap of thinly sliced Virginia ham, Tillamook cheddar, bacon, a slather of sweet caramelized onions and a hit of pickled okra on thick slices of buttery, toasted sour dough, is a meal fit for Colonial appetites, indeed.

Blue Talon Bistro 

The one that almost got away, but thanks to the advice of a Facebook friend, did not. I was able to sneak in one last lunch on my last visit before heading home, and was I glad I did. Situated just a block or two behind these other restaurants on Prince George Street,  Blue Talon resonates with Gallic charm, this time with hungry-man bistro style, but manages to fit in just enough room for Virginia ingredients.

Blue Talon Mac n Cheese

Blue Talon Mac n Cheese

For example, a mac ‘n cheese so sinful I’m sure I’ll have to recite a minimum of three Hail Mary’s at the gates of heaven, that is, if I even get in. Owner/Chef David Everett reduces whole cream way, way down and threads it with cheddar and Parmesan cheese, and broils it just enough so that your spoon makes a “crunching” sound as it breaks through into the gorgeous, cheesy sauce wrapped around tender penne and drizzled with fresh thyme. Not enough? Scatter some shards of salty Virginia ham served along side on top.

Like the mac ‘n cheese and really all the food we so enjoyed, the restaurant is spackled with whimsy, but bridled with taste.  For example, borderline tacky coq curios are everywhere, but they slip deliciously into the French blue painted walls, comfortable rattan seating, and seas of sunlight spilling in through French doors. Most dishes come served in gratins or sauce pans “stuck” to the plate with colorful plastic hot plates.

Blue Talon's Open-Faced Pot Roast Sandwich

Blue Talon’s Open-Faced Pot Roast Sandwich

After sampling such rib-sticking, yet sophisticated fare, it should come as no surprise that Blue Talon’s motto is “Serious Comfort Food.” Check out the open-faced pot roast sandwich (left). Comfort food, yes, and seriously so. Not just your Momma’s pot roast, this one is loved and coaxed and seasoned into consummate flavor and tenderness, swaddled with sweet carrots and onions in a sumptuous broth. There is no way anyone’s getting away without every bowl scraped clean with the likes of Blue Talon’s fare.

Add in easy access, reasonable prices, and exceptional service and there are three more reasons to make a visit every time beautiful Williamsburg, VA makes your traveling calling card.

 

 

 

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Cream Puffing Around

Thank you to the fine folks at Grilliant Ideas for inviting me to join their show this morning. We covered cream puffs, profiteroles, French cooking, croissants and more and had a lot of fun in the process. Visit the link below to listen in.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/grilliantideas/2013/10/12/grilliant-ideas-radio-show-with-grilliants-foodie-friends

One of the co-hosts was particularly fond of the recipe for Salted Caramel Macadamia Ice Cream Profiteroles with Warm Caramel Sauce and this picture by Alexandra DeFurio on page 90 of  The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs.

Profiterole with Salted Caramel Macadamia Ice Cream and Hot Caramel Sauce. Photo by Alexandra DeFurio.

Profiterole with Salted Caramel Macadamia Ice Cream and Hot Caramel Sauce. Photo by Alexandra DeFurio.

While we’re talking cream puffs and eclairs, mark your calendars for tomorrow’s Second Sunday on King Street (October 13). We’ll be celebrating the recent release of the book in style at the corner of Wentworth and King Street, downtown Charleston from 1 – 5 p.m. Come by and join me to talk choux pastry and receive your own signed copy of the brand new book, as well as my other books.

Look for the bright pink sign! Hope to see you there.

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Animal Attraction: The Power of Pets

For whatever reason, God chose not to bless me with children. For a while there, back in my twenties and thirties, I was pretty sad about that. Instead of surrounding me with the two tow-headed sons I envisioned as a young girl,  my entire life I’ve been surrounded with pets of all shapes and sizes. A pig named Malechy, a goat named Friday, a cow named Betsy, a Shetland pony named Honeybee, and a cat named Tigger, to name just a few.

Malechy rooted and snorted his way around his pen while my sister Heather and I watched in adoration, feeding him rotten apples and whatever else we could find and fancying him our own personal “Wilbur.” Goat Friday used to chase Heather up the apple trees on our daily walks through the pasture from the school bus. We never understood why, but it always caused hilarious laughter, especially from me.  Betsy lolled lazily most days, her dark brown eyes always reflecting quiet, peace and gentleness. Honeybee took me and my friend Mary O’Brien on a wild chase through the orchard one windy, fall day, ultimately upsetting the horse cart and our pride, but remained a feisty little friend throughout my childhood. And Tigger was my first cat love, a grey and white striped ball of a kitten we picked up at one of my brothers’ little league games and who lived with us for 18 long, happy years.

And then there were the dogs. Many, many wonderful dogs. Nicki the beautiful black lab who shepherded the four of us safely through the many acres of our country back yard when Mom was busy doing something else.  Fritzi, a fiercely loyal and smart Weimerarmer who loved us kids so much, she had to die for protecting us when she bit the garbage man.  It was achingly difficult to say goodbye to her, my first pet death. I cried now thinking about it and that was over forty years ago.

All of these lovely creatures are in God’s arms now, but they live forever in my memories for the love they provided and the priceless lessons they taught, especially about enjoying life in the moment and sharing unconditional love.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about them, and my current pets, Tann Mann and Chutney Cat.

My best ever kitchen helper and friend, Tann Mann.

My best ever kitchen helper and friend, Tann Mann.

They are advancing in years, at (almost) 11 and 14 years old, respectively. I know that they, just like my aging parents and everyone I know, will not be with me forever. I will not always be able to enjoy Tann Mann’s adorable sashay and swagger on our mutliple daily walks, hear his paws tickle the wood floors as he pads about the house, listen to his soft peaceful breathing on night’s when I can’t sleep, or watch him  watch me while I’m coooking. I will not always be able to watch Chutney Cat frolicking and hunting merrily in the garden or stare into her soulful, pretty green eyes. She will not always be there to “knead” pretend dough as she plays at my side.

Chutney Cat at play in the garden.

Chutney Cat at play in the garden.

But, I have them both now. I have them both to love and hold and enjoy for as long as they are meant to be with me.  And, because I have watched them and all the animals I have loved appreciate and enjoy every moment they are given, they have generously taught me how to do just that whenever possible.

God may have not given me human children, but he has given me so many blessings, not the least of which are many beautiful pets, my fur babies.  And, as my pets have taught me, I don’t even have to know why. I only need to be and be grateful.

 

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Sparkling Canteloupe Soup with Prosciutto and Basil

This cold, refreshing canteloupe soup is  a delicious and low-calorie way to celebrate the tastes of summer.

A crazy, water-logged summer has taken its toll on farmers and produce. Sweet, juicy peaches from summers’ past have become tasteless, over-sized balls of flavorless water and tomatoes halted their season early. I’ve had great luck with canteloupes however, finding fragrant, sweet melons at farmers’ markets and local sections at the grocery store.

Hot southern summers cry out for the cool, sweetness of melon. I can’t see or taste canteloupe without thinking of many afternoons I spent in France supping with friends on the smaller, sweeter varietals they serve there, often wrapped in Jambon de Bayonne and served with a cool, bubbly glass of Blanquette de Limoux.

This sparkling canteloupe soup brings these luscious flavors together, and gets blessed with a dash of cream, which recalls a kind of grown-up ice cream float, minus all the calories and with the peppery pluck of fresh basil and ground black pepper. I substitute the more easily found prosciutto (dry-cured ham found in the deli section) and brut Champagne for the Blanquette. The soup is not cooked, so if you’re not comfortable with a bit of alcohol in the soup, substitute sparkling cider.

Sparkling Canteloupe Soup

Sparkling Canteloupe Soup

Refrigerate the soup thoroughly for an hour or up to three hours (any longers and the bubbles will lose their luster)  and serve in shallow bowls. Garnish the center of the plate with the basil and prosciutto and finish with a drizzle of black pepper.  This presentation gives a pretty French touch while putting the perfect finishing touches on this fabulous soup’s flavor package.

Sparkling Canteloupe Soup with Prosciutto and Basil

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

1/2 large, ripe canteloupe, halved, seeded and peeled cut into 1/4″ cubes (about 4 cups)

2/3 cup brut Champagne (or substitute non-alcoholic sparkling cider)

1/2 cup whole cream (do not substitute with another reduced fat cream)

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Zest of 1 lime

Garnish:

8 slices prosciutto, trimmed and cut into thin strips

1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

1 teaspon extra virgin olive oil

You’ll need a food processor or blender; I find the latter yields a frothier, smoother soup. After that, it goes fast! Prep the canteloupe. To remove the outer rind, it’s easiest to cut the melon into several slices (usually about 4 to 6). Then, using a sharp, medium chef’s knife, slice along the bottom to remove the rind. Cut the melon into cubes. Place in the blender with the Champagne and cream. Pulse a few times and then blend until smooth and frothy.

Pour out into a medium sized bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the lime zest. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly for one hour in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, prep the garnish and toss the prosciutto, basil and oil together in a small bowl.

To serve, ladle the soup into shallow bowls. Top with a dollop of the garnish set up in the middle of the bowl. Dust with a sprinkle of ground black pepper. (Note: Taste the soup after it has chilled.  The colder temperature may “numb” your previous seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper as needed).

Bon appetit!

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