If it’s possible to still be a Daddy’s girl at 52, then I’m as guilty as the six year-old that wears him like a badge of honor on my heart, then as I do now. He enforced strict discipline and never tolerated lies he was somehow able to sniff out like a dog on the hunt. He taught unconditional love at every turn, returning from arduous week-long business trips, always ready to give his energy to his pack of four children and our mother on weekends. These often involved long rides on our horses, tag football, and summer evenings spent watching fireflies on our country front porch. When we were really lucky, these nights ended with him recanting imagined tales of Cookie to all of us, under a “tent” in the living room. And, when the summer heat really turned on, Saturday afternoons meant cherished and rare trips to Dairy Queen for ice cream. I favored the soft serve vanilla twist cones dipped in confetti peanut/candy, but sometimes one of us, Dad included, went whole hog and indulged in a hot chocolate sauce banana split. So, even now, I can’t think of ice cream sundaes without thinking of my Dad.
Time may have softened the lines of these memories, erasing the tears from an overly tired child or admonishments from a frustrated Dad, but at their core, they remain true to the man he was and is. The best Dad I could ever hope to have and my eternal night in shining armor, still shining at 84 years of age. The recipe that follows is an adult version of a very, very indulgent sundae that far surpasses DQ’s confetti candy and moves into the realm of butter, mashed bananas, brown sugar, walnuts and rum, though the latter can be wholly omitted without really missing a beat. From my cookbook Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith), it might be just the right treat for your Dad this Father’s Day.
Mashed Bananas Foster Sundaes
(Yields 8 sundaes)
The classic brown sugar, butter and rum sauce wrapped around flash-cooked and flambeed ripe bananas was created by Chef Paul Blange at Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans in 1951. The dark brown sauce is just the right foil for the sweetness of bananas. Lightly mashed and served warm over commercial vanilla ice cream with a crumble of chopped walnuts, it is sublime and comes together in minutes. To flambe, carefully tip the saute pan to meet your stovetop gas flame, or quickly hit with a lighter flame. The flambe is important to cook off the burn of the alcohol and increase flavor, although the rum can be omitted altogether. This is best served straight from the pan, but will store refrigerated and covered for a day or two. Reheat before serving over a few scoops of ice cream.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 tablespoons
1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
4 ripe bananas, peeled, halved vertically, and halved again horizontally
1/3 cup dark rum (optional)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 quarts best quality vanilla ice cream
In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the brown sugar, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, canilla, and salt. Cook together over medium-low heat, stirring, about 2 minutes. Carefully add the bananas and gently stir to coat, cooking for 3 minutes. Add the rum, stir to combine, and flambe, standing back to avoid the flame. Gently mash into large chunks using a manual masher or wooden spoon. Remove from heat and cool slightly for 1 – 2 minutes. Serve warm in individual bowls over 2 or 3 scoops of ice cream. Garnish with a tablespoon or so of chopped walnuts. Serve immediately.
Happy Father’s Day!
Recipe and Cookbook Giveaway
Here it is already. Time to tuck away the white shorts and Keds, pull out the grill, and celebrate the symbolic final hoopla of summer – Labor Day. When I was a girl living on our bucolic Massachusetts farm, it was a weekend to look forward to. Jammed with horse riding, touch football, and lots of burgers and dogs cooked (usually over-cooked) but always cooked with love by my darling Dad. For me, too, it was infused with the anticipation of returning to school. I loved going back to that elementary school, the smell of the paper and books, the sound of a pencil writing cursive on a piece of lined paper on a hard desk, even the slightly sweet, soggy spaghetti and meat sauce in the cafeteria. I remember laying out my first day of school outfit on my bed, right down to the knee socks and polished Mary Jane’s. Those were heady days!
This Labor Day weekend has a slightly heightened sense of joy, like back in those school days. My latest cookbook, Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith) will be released Tuesday. Available in bookstores near you and online, practically by the time you read this. The recipe that follows is one of my favorites, because it is packed with one of my favorite summer foods – summer squash and zucchini. Still beautiful in South Carolina this time of year, they’re reaching the end of their season elsewhere and soon will here, too. Though this dish requires just a bit more work than placing the squash on a grill, it’s a lovely do-ahead that will impress and pair with anything from a steak to barbecue.
Cheddar Two-Summer-Squash Mash
Yields 6 servings
Summer squash, slightly sweet and squeaks-in-your-teeth fresh at peak summer season, is one of my favorite summer treats. Often, I’ll saute either yellow summer squash or zucchini in a little olive oil wiht some red onion, finish it with a sprinkle of fresh basil and grated Parmesan, and call it a summer’s night. However, the two squashes marry beautifully together in this beautiful mash casserole, which resonates with the lemony freshness of thyme and squash flavor. The texture is airy and light, almost mousse-like, topped with a buttery panko bread crumb crunch. While you can substitute unseasoned traditional bread crumbs, panko celivers a crunch edge and it’s really worth having in your pantry at all times. The casserole is delicious hot, warm, or even room temperature.
2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) dice, about 3 cups (370 g)
3 medium yellow summer squash, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) dice, about 4 cups (495 g)
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk sour cream
2 cups (240 g) grated mild cheddar cheese
1 small shallot, finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg
3 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
1 cup panko bread crumbs or unseasoned traditional bread crumbs
Pinch of ground black pepper and kosher or sea salt
Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).
Place the zucchini and summer squash in a medium saucepan. Pour in enough water to barely cover and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain very well in a colander, gently pressing out any excess water, and return to the pan.
Mash with a manual masher until the squash is chunky smooth. With a wooden spoon, blend in the thyme, sour cream, cheese, shallot, pepper, remaining salt, egg, and nutmeg. Pour into a medium (2-quart / 2-l) casserole that has been greased with 1 tablespoon of the butter, spreading with spoon to even the top.
Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the panko and seasoning and toss to coat. Brown the crumbs to a golden brown, being careful to toss and avoid burning. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the top.
Bake for 45 minutes, uncovered, or until bubbly and golden brown. Rest 10 minutes before serving and garnish with some fresh thyme sprigs. This makes a lovely meal with a green salad and fresh bread and butter. The casserole can be assembled ahead, refrigerated, and baked just before serving.
I told you what I love about Labor Day. Now’s your turn to tell me what you love about this holiday and transition from summer into fall. Favorite memories, foods, thoughts – they’re all welcome. Please leave your comment here and I’ll pick a winner on Tuesday, book release day.
I look forward to hearing from you and please have a safe, happy and delicious holiday!
Reflections and a Recipe: Feisty Chicken Drumstick Piperade
Some years ago, I was blessed enough not only to own a small home in a tiny village in southwestern France, I was doubly blessed to have the opportunity to visit for several months of those seven lucky years. Tucked away in the foothills of The Pyrenees and steeped in the tragic history of Le Pays Cathare, it was a tiny, pie-shaped home at the base of a crumbling old chateau in a pocket of a village called Chalabre. My French friends called it le maison du poupee, or a doll’s house. Sometimes I felt like a little doll working in it, especially working in my sliver of a kitchen with a view of rolling green hills, grazing cattle, and a tiny 16th-century church, tolling its soothing, soulful bells every hour into every day I spent there.
As much as I loved it, I would occasionally stray south of the border to neighboring Spain to buy red clay pottery, which brought me through and around Basque country. The language and dialect are unique and were foreign to my French-trained ears. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I recognized and understood the faces of the villagers in the villages I passed through. Rows of stooped, elderly men lining short benches at the edges of cafes, sun-leathered faces and age-withered lips barely clinging to their omnipresent Gauloises cigarettes, and little old ladies clinging to well-used thatched baskets, hobbling through winding, ancient streets in floral, wrapped aprons on the way to the daily marche, all spoke to the time-worn traditions of the place.
Among other things, Basque country is home to the French Basque “piperade” (pronounced pip-errr-ahd), which derives its name from the French Gascon word for pepper, or “piper.” Traditionally, it is comprised primarily of peppers, onions and tomatoes, to mimic the red, green and white colors of the Basque flag. Because peppers have been haunting me for the past two months, both at supermarkets and farmer stands, I’ve been cooking quite a bit with them. Their diversity is growing, both in color and heat, and I enjoyed combining a bit of sweet and heat in this recipe, which is just hot enough to make you pucker, and sweet enough (with a dash of honey) to make you smile. I skipped tomatoes in this version, since I didn’t have any at home. Feel free to add one or two, coarsely chopped, after adding the chicken stock. It’s finished with a spray of fresh basil and parsley, and is as lovely served hot, as it is room temp or even cool for a picnic. Serve as is, or over rice, polenta, grits or creamy mashed potatoes.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups mixed color sweet, baby bell peppers (about 8 total), halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large banana pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and very finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon local or wild honey
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon each, finely chopped fresh basil and parsley
Preheat oven to 350F. Pat dry the chicken drumsticks (or substitute same size pieces of other cuts of the chicken). Heat the 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch Oven (or another sturdy, oven-proof pot) over medium high. Season the chicken generously on one side with the salt and pepper and 1/2 of the oregano. When sizzling, add the chicken, seasoned side down in a single layer, in the butter and oil. Brown until golden, about four minutes. Turn the chicken, and season the uncooked side with salt and pepper and remaining oregano. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain off the cooking fat. Add a fresh tablespoon of olive oil, heat over medium low. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir and cook until just softened, about two minutes. Add the sweet peppers, banana pepper and jalapeno, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir, and continue cooking over medium low until softened, about three minutes. Add the garlic, lime juice, orange juice and crushed red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium high and reduce liquids by half. Add the honey, chicken stock and return the browned chicken to the pan, in a single layer. Bring up to a boil, cover, and place the pot in the preheated oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken once. Remove the lid and return to the oven, baking another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to pull from the bone. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the chicken from the pot, reserving warm. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce the liquid by half, simmering over medium high for 6 to 8 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. At the last minute, add the fresh basil and parsley. Return the chicken to the pot and heat through. Serve immediately or cool, refrigerate overnight, and serve the next day hot, room temperature or chilled.
Culinary Tours of Charleston hosts a wonderful Farmers Market Tour that concludes with a fabulous five course feast prepared by a local chef.
Here’s the dessert from a tour I took earlier this week – blueberry ice cream over Texas Toast French Toast with Special K crunch coating. Amazing!
For me, blueberries are a fruit laden with delicious memories of summers’ past. Hot July days of my youth were often spent picking plump, purple berries off the prolific bush on our farm and popping them directly into my greedy little mouth. Or, perhaps better yet, were our blueberry-rich annual summer trips up to Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park. Mom would arm us with little tin pails as we hiked the hills, cool, salty sea breezes on our faces, in search of plump blueberries and good, lazy summer fun that filled our days and spilled over into happy, deep dreams each evening.
All these years later, blueberries from Maine (and now peaches from South Carolina), are still the fruits of summer in my mind. These delicious eclairs, adapted from my upcoming book, The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs (Gibbes Smith, October 2013) are a beautiful way to put them to use.
Lemon Blueberry Cream Eclairs with a Chocolate Glaze
(Yields 12 to 16 standard-size éclairs)
(Photo by Alexandra Defurio)
A purée of fresh blueberries blended into a rich pastry cream give the filling for these beauties a regal purple color. The mild flavor of the berries is lightly enhanced with fresh lemon juice. Fresh, sugar-coated berries sit atop a ganache glaze to provide an enticing clue as to what’s inside. You could easily substitute the same quantity of fresh raspberries or blackberries using the same method for a color and flavor variation. Just switch out the garnish to match the corresponding berry-enriched filling. Make the pastry cream and the ganache ahead, so they can chill and set up, or borrow from a previously prepared batch.
These will chill nicely for several hours before serving. They are superb with a cold glass of Champagne or sparkling wine garnished with 3 or 4 fresh, frozen blueberries to serve as edible ice cubes.
This is basically a three-part process, that’s easy when approached as follows. First, prepare the choux and bake the eclairs. These will store wonderfully in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag for several days. The day before serving, prepare the pastry cream and ganache. Finally, the pastry cream is finished with a cooked, fresh blueberry puree, piped into the fresh eclairs, a topped with ganache and sugar coated fresh blueberries.
Master Recipe Sweet Choux Pastry
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk, splash of water, pinch of salt, blended together
Equipment needed: 2 silicon mats or parchment paper, 2 half sheet baking pans, one 12″ piping bag, #804 round pastry tip, pastry brush.
1 cup water
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
4 large eggs (about 1 cup), room temperature, beaten together
Egg wash: 1 egg, splash of water, pinch of salt, beaten together
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line two half sheet baking pans with silicon mats or parchment paper. Prepare the pastry.
In a medium, sturdy saucepan, heat the water and butter together over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Once melted, reduce heat to medium.
Sift together the two flours and salt together over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the melted water and butter mixture, and set the bowl nearby. Stir the dough vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring it together. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball. Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl and let sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your finger for at least 10 seconds. Add half of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry looks uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the pastry is uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.
Pipe the warm choux into 3″-long, 1 1/2″ wide eclair “logs.” Brush lightly with the egg wash. Bake 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F, rotating the sheets if necessary for even browning, and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a pastry rack. Pierce the bottom of each gently with the tip of a sharp knife three times, once near each end of the length of the éclairs and once in the center.
Master Recipe Pastry Cream
(Yields 2 1/2 cups)
This cornerstone custard filling for both cream puffs and éclairs is mildly sweet, unctuous and pale gold in color. Egg yolks and cornstarch work together to thicken the custard, while whole milk lends creamy flavor. 2 cups warm milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Generous pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a very low simmer, about 3 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together vigorously until they are lemony in color and thickened, about 2 minutes. Sift together the sugar, salt and cornstarch and add all at once to the eggs. Whisk vigorously for another minute. The mixture will have a glossy sheen. Very gradually at first, drizzle the warm milk into the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Add the remaining milk in thirds, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture through a China cap and return the pastry cream to the same pan used to heat the milk. Whisk vigorously over medium-low heat. The cream will start to thicken almost instantly. Continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the cream is thick enough to hold in a spoon, like a custard or pudding. Using a spatula, guide the custard into a clean, glass bowl. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract until combined. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down over the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and set.
For the garnish:
1⁄ 2 cup Ganache/Hot Chocolate Sauce, recipe follows:
(Yield: 1 1/2 cups)
Cold or room temperature, ganache works beautifully as a glaze for sweet cream puffs and eclairs. I add a bit of salt, and vanilla and coffee extracts and salt to pump up the chocolate flavor. This stores beautifully in the refrigerator for a couple of days, covered. For a glaze, remove from the refrigerator for 15 – 20 minutes to soften it up for spreading. You will have extra left-over for another use.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup coarsely chopped, best-quality dark bittersweet chocolate
Generous pinch sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon coffee extract
In a medium sauce pan, bring the cream up to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the chopped dark chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the sauce is a dark, chocolate color. Off the heat, stir in the remaining ingredients. To reserve warm, store in a Thermos, serve in the next several minutes, or reheat gently over low heat. To store cold, refrigerate in a covered container for later use as a glaze or re-constituted sauce.
To finish the eclair garnish:
1⁄4 cup dampened fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Putting it all together!
Blueberry Sauce to Finish the Pastry Cream filling :
2 cups fresh blueberries
1⁄4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons water
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups prepared, cold Pastry Cream (recipe above)
Bring the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, water and salt up to a simmer over high heat in a medium sauce pan. Reduce to medium. Cook until the blueberries begin to pop and soften, stirring occasionally, a total of about 6 to 7 minutes. Using a blender or a hand-held emulsion blender, purée the mixture until very smooth. Return the mixture to the same pan, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer until thickened and reduced to a total of 1 cup.
Refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the pastry cream with the cooled blueberry sauce (“coulis”) until smooth and blended. Using a pastry bag fitted with a #802 round pastry tip, gently pipe the filling into each of the three knife piercings on the bottom of each éclair. Using a clean fingertip, garnish the top of each with a heaping tablespoon of ganache spread out into a smooth layer over the top of the éclair. Just before garnishing, run the reserved 1 ⁄ 4 cup blueberries under water and strain well. Toss with the sugar. Garnish the top of each éclair with a horizontal string of 5 blueberries along the top, pressed gently into the ganache.