Thursday, August 15, 2019

Lemon Mousse Shortbread Tart


       When serving this once to a friend I asked if he would like a napkin to which he held up his hand and said, "Not now, I'm having a religious experience."  Another partaker suggested that she should go and confess to her ecclesiastical authority after eating this dessert. This dessert certainly evokes spiritual experiences apparently!  It is one of my daughter's favorites and I have to leave her alone with her serious reflections as she is eating it.

     The tart and creaminess of the mousse supported by the shortbread crust are a lovely combination of soft textures, that seem sturdy enough but once in your mouth melt away emitting overtones of just enough sweetness to temper the tartness. The raspberries on top add an extra pinch of freshness and remind us that lemons and raspberries were born to be together.

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

      -Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

      -Cream the butter and sugar together very well,
           about 2 minutes with an electric mixer.  Add
           remaining ingredients and mix to a soft 

      -Press into a square or round baking dish either
           8 x 8 inch, or 10 inch round.  Prick all over 
           with fork. This allows the heat to penetrate,
           and the steam to escape so the center can cook.

      -Bake for about 40 minutes or until just starting
           to brown.  Remove from oven and allow to
           cool completely.

6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tab. cornstarch
1 cup fresh lemon juice, strained
2 tab. finely grated lemon peel
14 tab. (1 3/4 sticks) well-chilled unsalted butter, 
          cut into small pieces
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
2 tab. or more sugar


     -Whisk eggs and yolks in heavy saucepan until 
          foamy. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups sugar, mixed with 
          cornstarch, then lemon juice.  Mix in peel.  
          Stir over low heat until mixture thickens to 
          consistency of heavy custard, about 10 
          minutes. Do not boil.  Remove from heat and 
          whisk in butter until incorporated. Transfer 
          mixture to plastic or glass bowl and cool
          until very thick, stirring occasionally, about 
          50 minutes.

       -Whip cream in medium bowl to soft peaks. 
            Fold cream into lemon mixture just until 
            combined.  Spoon mousse into prepared 
            crust.  Cover and chill until set, about 2 
            hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead.)

     -Coarsely mash berries in small bowl using             fork.  Mix in 2 tab. sugar.  Taste, adding          more sugar if desired. Cover and          refrigerate 1 hour to release juices.  (Can           be prepared 1 day ahead.)  Use fresh whole           berries with or without sugar if preferred.

      -Cut tart into squares or wedges then spoon
           sauce over center of mousse to serve.  
           Garnish with fresh raspberries and sliver
           of lemon peel.

 Persnickety Notes:
         **When is it done?  Directions that tell you to cook a sauce such as Anglaise or thin custards often instruct you to cook stirring constantly until the mixture coats the back of a spoon or until it thickens - both very imprecise directions.  What do they mean?  Sauces with eggs in them should not be cooked to boiling as the eggs can scramble and make your finished product lumpy and grainy - thus the caution.  Constant or very frequent stirring is important to keep the mixture from coagulating on the bottom of the pan, where it will burn.  What I generally do is to cook the mixture with very frequent stirring over medium-high heat until I see the very first bubble from a boil or until it is very steamy and looks like it's just about to boil.  That makes more sense to me than coating the back of a spoon - I always wonder, how thickly?

**What pot are you using?  
Foods that contain lemon juice should not be cooked in reactive cookware.  Aluminum, copper,iron and non-stainless steel are reactive.  Their 
surfaces will release atoms of metal into the food and can give the lemon a 
bitter taste or discoloration,  Use something non-reactive made of 
stainless steel, glass or glazed ceramic.  I have a favoriteset of pots, going 
on 40 years old now, in which I make cream fillings and sauces, because 
they tend not to stick and burn on the bottom.  However,they are not great
for lemon.  We have a family tradition of cooking cream pies, banana and coconut being our favorite, that I insist on cooking in the 40-year-old aluminum pan so there are no burned brown bits in the finished product
but we have found if we let the cooked cream sit in the pan while it cools
it turns to an off-putting shade of green.  There was one Thanksgiving 
when we served Banana Green Pie.  The taste was fine but I learned to
quickly pour the cooked filling to a glass or plastic bowl to cool in
the future!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Breakfast Pizza

     Pizza has captivated the world - in fact, I recently heard of the International Pizza competition held each year in Naples, Italy.  Now, this breakfast version wouldn't stand a chance with Neopolitans but what a fun spin on a food that each of us enjoys in our own particular way with our own particular favorites. We are all very persnickety indeed when it comes to our choice of pizzas but as Mom always said, "in taste there is no dispute."

     My pizza memories include what our family called a "pizza crawl" as we sampled those pizzerias that have been named the best in the U.S. or wish they were, inhabiting the streets of New Haven, Ct.  There they call it apizza when often we wanted more than just "a" pizza.  Some in our group voted for the clam and white sauce pizza at Pepes others preferred Modern's Pizza.  I myself sampled none I liked as well as the thicker crusted Italian sausage and mushroom version which first seduced me into the world of pizzeria's in my western home state, where little of Italy had infiltrated, some 6,000 miles from Naples.  My favorites included pizza from restaurants like Francescos, Shakey's Pizza and Rusty Nail Pizza. I still remember fondly the flavors of those long gone pizza heavens!

      And then there were those that, in my opinion, took too much license with pizza - top among them, the Tunisian spin on pizza, always served with a soft fried egg on top.  We were so excited when a Pizza Hut opened just up the street from us in Amman, Jordan - a little flavor of America just a short walk from our home.  But alas, although the flavors started out reminiscent of those back home, within a few months, the Arab spices had invaded and cinnamon and allspice polluted this American staple!

     Try the recipe below for a breakfast/brunch novelty, a combo between biscuits and sausage gravy and breakfast burritos.  Or take the idea and run with it to create your favorite combinations for breakfast!

Biscuit Crust:
     2 cups flour
     1 tab. sugar
     2 tsp. salt
     1/3 cup shortening 
     1 tab. baking powder
     1 cup milk

             -Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in medium mixing bowl.  Cut in shortening until well incorporated using a pastry blender, fork, or your hands  (I like to do it with my hands as I can feel when the fat is incorporated.)  Stir in the milk until the mixture comes together and you can form a ball.  Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

White Sauce:
     1/4 cup butter
     2 tab. flour
     1 1/3 cup milk
     salt and pepper to taste
     1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)

     ground pork sausage, browned and drained
     6 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
     1/2 onion, slivered and caramelized in 1 tab. oil
     1/2 diced green/red pepper
     1/2 cup sauteed mushrooms
     2-3 cups grated cheddar or Colby Jack/cheddar combination  


              -Liberally oil a round pizza pan or 9  x 13 inch cookie sheet.  Roll and press biscuit dough evenly into pan.  Prick dough with fork at frequent intervals.  Place crust into preheated 375 degree oven and bake for 5 minutes to help ensure the crust is done for the end result.  

     -Remove from oven and spread crust with white sauce.  Then top with 3/4s of the mild to medium cheddar cheese or colby jack, cheddar combo.  Top with cooked breakfast sausage, crisp bacon, caramelized onion slivers, sauteed mushrooms, chopped red or green pepper, etc.  Sprinkle remaining 1/4 of cheese over the top.  Bake in oven for an additional 12 - 15 minutes until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

              -Cut into pizza slices or squares and serve warm. Serves 6 - 8

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Red, White & Blueberry Pie

Aren't we all patriotic at heart - particularly when it comes to pie!  This is a perfect pie for those devoted to pie and country!  I use a homemade standard American pie crust for the pastry shell.  (I come by pie-crust making naturally, as a niece to the champion pie maker of Davis County!)  But if homemade crust intimidates you, frozen pie crust will suffice, or perhaps a better option to frozen pie crust would be a graham-cracker crust or as I prefer a "Vanilla Wafer" crust.)

With a nod to the creaminess and fresh berries of a Pavlova, hints of lemon meringue sparkle through giving the pie the pizzaz-i-ness that a 4th of July dessert should have - reminiscent of fireworks! Fresh strawberry pie is also conjured by your tastebuds.  So all combined, when sliced, the pie reveals inviting layers of red, white and somewhat blue (those pesky blueberries hide a greenish interior).  But we take them at their word.

Memories of our 4th of Julys past are somewhat unorthodox but we waved the red, white and blue, somewhat less conspicuously while living in the Middle East but among our compatriots, we celebrated the day with programs of patriotic music, hamburgers, and hotdogs, but alas, no parades or fireworks.  When in Cape Cod or Utah or Wyoming or traveling elsewhere, we joined in with the local small town parade and rodeo throngs.  A 4th to be remembered was watching the fireworks dazzle over Boston Harbor with the Boston Pops playing the accompaniment to their explosions.  One of our most unusual was spending the 4th in London on a trip to the Lake District.  Now, why was there no acknowledgment of our hardly-won independence over the great British Empire??  Our young children couldn't understand it.

But in the red, white and blue corners of my kitchen, I could always create a meal of patriotic fare, that took me back to the local celebrations, band-thumping parades and neighborhood BBQ's of my childhood. (You show your age when you remember the smoky snake fireworks that your father always scolded you for lighting on the cement driveway!)  This red, white and blueberry pie delightfully bring these reminiscings back to me!

Red, White & Blueberry Pie

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise
1 10-inch pie crust, pierced and baked until golden
1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons sugar
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 ounces white baking chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tab. cornstarch
1 tsp. unflavored gelatin, such as Knox brand
1 tab. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel

  • Directions
  • 1. To make mousse:  
  • In a bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Gradually add 4 tab. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract, beating until stiff peaks form; set aside.
  • 2. In another bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add cooled chocolate and beat until smooth.  Gently fold 1 1/4 cups whipped cream into the cream cheese/chocolate mixture.  Set aside to chill in the fridge.
  • 3. To make glaze:
  •  In a medium saucepan, combine 1 1/4 cups water, 1 1/4 cups sugar, cornstarch and gelatin.  Mix with whisk until smooth.  Cook over medium-high heat until mixture thickens, bubbles and becomes glossy, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon peel and juice.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
4. Mix whole blueberries with half of the glaze mixture and pour and spread into bottom of prepared pie crust.

5. Spread white chocolate mousse over the blueberry layer.  Chill for about 30 minutes to allow the mousse layer to set.

6.  Mix the strawberries with the remaining glaze mixture.  Layer strawberries, one slice at a time over the top of the mousse layer, to create a concentric pattern.  Or if you prefer, simply pour the strawberry and glaze mixture over the mousse layer and spread gently until even.

7. Place the remaining whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto top of pie leaving about a 1 inch border around the cream so that the strawberries show.  Garnish the top of the pie with a large berry sliced vertically and fanned out and a few blueberries.  Chill until ready to serve.  Seves 8 - 10

Persnickety Notes:

**White chocolate can be finicky.  Melt slowly in a small glass bowl at 20-second intervals in the microwave.  Stir gently.    Allow to rest for about a minute.  Continue zapping it for 20 seconds with a rest period following, until you can stir the chocolate to a smooth consistency.  If you have trouble and the chocolate starts to harden, add a tab. of cream and continue the process until it becomes smooth when stirring.

 **Does whipping cream scare you?  It is really very easy and tastes so much better than the pre-whipped in a can or frozen whipped topping.  Place the cold cream (be sure it is labeled whipping cream or heavy cream - light cream won't work) in your mixing bowl and begin to mix at medium-high speed, gradually increasing to highest speed, until the cream begins to thicken (this will take 4 - 5 minutes).  Sprinkle in sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form.  Lift the beaters from the mixture and if the peak remains standing it is ready. (Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to create what is known as Chantilly cream.  I routinely do this anyway for the vanilla flavor).  If you go too far and the cream starts to become butter-like, add a few tablespoons of liquid cream and whip just a bit until the mixture becomes light and fluffy again.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


       Yes, you read it right - Baklawa - with a "w".   I was trained in creating this most succulent, layered treasure by a Lebanese friend and since Arabic has no "V", "W" is substituted.  Much the same is true with the "P" - does not exist, so "B" is used, which makes Pepsi become Bebsi.  In loyalty to one of the best Arab cooks I ever knew, I somewhat pretentiously insist on the Arabic pronunciation.  But regardless, eating and enjoying it are the same, whatever it might be called.

      I have been away from posting for almost two years, busy exploring other experiences in my life but I haven't stopped cooking, and often cooking includes baklawa, which then requires teaching others to make it.  This is one dessert whose preparation terrifies people.  And when first made in the rustic, dusty kitchens of the Middle East, it must have terrified most anyone, because the paper-thin dough would be rolled out on a large table, only the expert achieving a uniform thickness.  With modern technology that laborious task has long been a labor of the past - in fact I never met an Arab cook who makes the dough by hand.  We all know a good thing when we see it - and the frozen packages of phyllo dough in the market are good enough!

      When I first made baklawa in the states years ago, phyllo dough was hard to find, and when I did find it, it had sat in a freezer for a long time, and the sheets were always stuck together and difficult to work with.  Being a more common ingredient now, the sheets generally pull off neatly from the sheet below it, but not always.  Regardless, it is a good idea to only work with phyllo when you have plenty of time, get everything you will need together, sit down and take a relaxing breath and whistle a happy tune as you gingerly pull the sheets off from one another.  But be sure the dough is completely thawed or that will not happen.  When you bring it home frozen from the store, place it in the refrigerator if you will be working with it in the next few days,  If it will be longer than a week freeze it.  If you need the dessert that evening, open the package, take one encased roll at a time and microwave on full power for 1 minute.  Let it sit for 10 minutes then zap it again for another minute (not recommended but is usually successful when in a hurry.)  And if the dough sticks and tears, take another deep breath and be assured that only the top layer has to look perfect - everything underneath it can be patched and folded and holey.

      When teaching cooking classes, this is the one dish that is most often requested and though I now have its preparation down to 15 minutes tops, I still call it a sitting job - there just aren't enough of those, so enjoy the sit for those jobs that you can.  One student asked if they could use Pam instead of butter between each layer of dough. I told her sure, but that I wouldn't want to eat it.  If you're going to bother with it in the first place, use ingredients that will make it taste as delicious as it was meant to be. Butter is a must. I prefer salted butter for the salty contrast that plays against the very sweet notes.   Butter will create the distinct layers so that when you bite into a piece you hear a hundred different pops of crunchy buttery, sweetness in your mouth.

      As suggested earlier, what's in a name - baklava or baklawa - "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet";  so let's talk about rose water....then let's talk about ghee.   Rose water is generally added to the syrup in the Middle East but is an acquired taste.  I would rather dab rose water on my wrists than eat it, so I don't use it.  And then ghee (clarified butter) is called for in many authentic recipes which I think is totally uncalled for; ghee has a distinct flavor that those in my family refer to as a little "goaty".  That's difficult to explain, but suffice it to say, it is not pleasant.

      With all this being said, baklawa is not difficult to make.  Perhaps a bit tedious but once adoring fans have eagerly consumed it, you will probably feel it was worth it.  My children gather round like panting wolves ready to pounce on its prey as soon as it is ready - or even before.  My oldest can eat half a pan but is ill the rest of the day after doing so but seems to lack the control to stop.  Baklawa is a demanding taskmaster - sitting there glistening with all its buttery layers and crunchy nuts teased with cinnamon; expecting us to master our appetites and yet punishing us when we give in to its temptation and don't.  Pay attention to the specific notes and recommendations below. I have made it so often I know a lot of tricks.  I have even been told by Arabs themselves that mine is as good as their mothers. (But don't tell their mothers.)

1 lb. pecans, walnuts or shelled pistachios, finely chopped
    (or use a combo of all 3 nuts) 
1/3 cup sugar
2 tab. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
1 package phyllo pastry, thawed
1 ½ cups melted butter

          3 cups sugar
          2 cups water
          1 slice lemon
          1 stick cinnamon

-Combine nuts, 1/3 cup sugar, cinnamon and cloves in food processor. Finely chop and set aside.

-Butter bottom of 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish. Unwrap 1 roll of phyllo dough and lay out flat on work surface. (Dough will dry out quickly.  If this is your first time working with phyllo you may want to place a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough while you are working with the sheets in the pan. Once you are faster, this won't be necessary.)

-Place 2 sheets of phyllo in bottom of dish.  With pastry brush, brush with melted butter.  Place 2 more sheets and brush with butter. Continue layering and brushing 2 sheets at a time until you have used 12 sheets of phyllo. (if the dough sheets don't fit your pan exactly, you may fold the dough under on one end, and alternate the fold to the other end with the next layer.)

-Sprinkle phyllo with 1/3 of nut mixture. Place 2 sheets phyllo over nut mixture and brush with butter.  Repeat filling and phyllo layers two more times.

-Continue layering and brushing 2 sheets of phyllo at a time until you have used all the sheets in the package - both rolls (approximately 24 more total sheets of pastry.)

-Tuck in edges of phyllo and cut into diamond shapes approximately 2 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide, with a sharp serrated knife.  (Do this by cutting vertically along the long edge making 5 even cuts.  Then at a 45 degree angle, start at one corner and cut to the opposite side.  Make your next 45 degree angle cut about 1 1/2 inch from your first one.  Wet fingers to keep phyllo from sticking to them or place the pan in the fridge for 30 minutes before cutting.  Pour remaining butter over baklawa.  Sprinkle with water to keep top layers from curling during baking.

-Bake in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  It top becomes too brown, cover loosely with foil.

-Meantime, prepare syrup.  Combine water, sugar and cinnamon stick in medium saucepan.  Stir and bring to boil over medium high heat. Let boil for 10 minutes on medium low heat. Do not stir once mixture begins to boil or it will become cloudy.  (Cover the pan with a lid for the last 3 minutes to melt any sugar crystals that may have formed on the side of the pan.) Squeeze the lemon quarter's juice into the syrup and add lemon to the hot liquid. Let mixture cool to room temperature.

-Pour cooled syrup over warm baklava.  (The pastry appears to be floating in the syrup at this point - you will be amazed to see how it soaks it all up.  Let sit for several hours or overnight at room temperature.  If you don't let it sit long enough, some of the syrup may not be absorbed but can still be served - just a little soupier than the ideal.)  Re-cut pieces again with sharp knife to make sure you have cut through all the layers and serve.

Persnickety Notes:

**Phyllo dough is sold in most grocery stores in the frozen foods department most often near the frozen berries and frozen pie crusts.

**This recipe uses half the melted butter called for in traditional recipes by brushing every other sheet with butter. All sheets touch butter on one side this way, but the crunchiness is not affected and you feel as if you have saved yourself half the calories - a win-win!

**To store baklawa, simply cover very loosely with foil at room temperature.  Do not seal in airtight container or bag and do not store in refrigerator as this will make the layers of dough soggy - what a shame to lose that marvelous crunch!  The best way to store it is in an open pan in a cupboard where flies or overeaters can't get to it.

**You can freeze baklawa once it is assembled and cut but before baking. Remove from freezer about 1 hour before baking and continue recipe as described above. (If frozen after baking, you loose all the crunch.)

                     -Items needed to make baklawa

-Brushing layers of dough with melted butter...

                      -Sprinkling nut mixture after the 12th sheet of dough

         -Cutting the baklawa into diamond shapes, 
       before baking.

-The finished product!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cookie Dough Brownies

     The daisies are just about gone, the leaves on the mountains across the valley are already turning red, and the kids are back in school, but the calendar won't concede summer to autumn for another couple of weeks.  We resist with the swan song to all things summer with a  Labor Day picnic.  Some of us are ready to breathe a deep breath of coolth, (as we like to call it for if there is warmth, can't there be coolth?).  Others of us refuse to put away sandals and shorts until well into November, but there's still time to mix up a batch of brownies to take to a picnic, camping or to make the kids smile for a "welcome back to school" treat when coming home from school.
     This combo is a winner - chocolate cookie dough brownies - the creamy layer is reminiscent of a fingerful of cookie dough scraped from the sides of the mixing bowl while making chocolate chip cookies (or snitched in deliberate handfuls from the dough). The chocolate of the rich, dense brownie and the drizzled chocolate glaze whisper "chocolate chip cookies" to your senses.  A birthday favorite of one of my sisters was raw cookie dough - allowed as a "once-a-year" treat for the celebration.  I always requested cheesecake for my birthday but wasn't averse to joining in the cookie dough gluttony.  
     The quintessential American treat, these brownies are perfect to take with you to a picnic or cookout and admittedly require more labor than a plain, unfussy brownie, thus apropo for "Labor" Day.  Come to think of it, no one ever declared brownies taboo after Labor Day like white pants or dresses or swimming at the beach in Tunisia, so no worries - these delicious sweets are just as much appreciated in cold months as well - unlike daisies, ubiquitously seasonal and enticing throughout the year!

Cookie Dough Brownies:

One recipe plain chocolate brownies  (see below)


          1/2 cup butter,softened
          1/2 cup brown sugar
          1/4 cups sugar  
          2 tab. milk
          1 tsp. vanilla
          1 cup flour
          1/4 tsp. salt

-In a large bowl beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add milk, salt and vanilla. blend well.  Add flour, mix well.  Spread over cool brownies.


          1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
          2 tab. butter
          3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

-Melt chocolate chips and butter in microwave until smooth, about 1 minute on high. Stir until smooth.  Let cool 10 - 15 minutes then spoon glaze over filing, drizzling to cover.  If desired, sprinkle with walnuts, pressing down lightly.  Store in fridge.  Cut when chilled.

Brownie Recipe (dense and moist)

     4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened baking chocolate
     1 cup butter
     4 eggs
     2 cups sugar
     1/2 tsp. salt
     1 tsp. vanilla
     1 1/4 cups flour
     1/2 tsp.baking powder

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray or grease well with oil.

-Roughly chop the chocolate and place in a bowl with the butter and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring between intervals until just melted and smooth.  Let cool about 10 minutes.

-In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla for 2 minutes.  Slowly add chocolate/butter mixture. then flour and mix to combine.  Stir in baking powder and salt.   Spread batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.. Cool completely.

Persnickety P.S.

**You may use your favorite brownie recipe, cakey, fudgy or chewy.  In a hurry, even a favorite box mix will do - especially Ghiradelli's brownie mix.

**Brownies with a topping are so much easier to cut once chilled.  Use a sharp knife, heated in hot water and/or a short metal spatula.

**If desired, increase the filling to make a thicker creamy layer by increasing each ingredient by half.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Israeli Tomato-Eggplant-Pesto Salad

I picked my first large tomato from the garden today - an heirloom beefsteak variety.  My basil is crying out to be harvested and lures me with its fragrance as I pass the herb garden.  I can't say so much for the eggplants - my plants have been stingy and shy to produce this year,  and I have not yet turned my hand to dairy farming so alas, no homemade provolone, but at least for the next couple of months, I will have tomatoes on my mind and on my kitchen counter and fresh salsa on hand.  That's a nice thought.  And at least once or twice I will make this Israeli Tomato Eggplant Salad I first sampled on a balmy evening on a spacious lawn at a diplomatic function in Tel Aviv, the type of reception where I just hung out at the refreshment table and made sure I was engaging in a very important diplomatic responsibility - as my husband puts it, "Eating for my country."

     Could these colors be any more vibrant, oozing their rich and luscious hues?  The salad tastes as succulent as it looks and transports me with a single bite on a magic salad boat back to the Middle East - undulating among the fragrance of jasmine, the salty ambiance of a beach side restaurant serving fish and mixed grill, sauteed in the silkiest of olive oils and baguette with a bit of inelegance that makes the food taste locally unique...... our two young children crawling under the table biting the feet of other diners, the subsequent parental ban of those children from restaurants for a year.....isn't it interesting how fragrances and flavors awaken vivid memories - pleasant or not! This recipe creates a lovely spiral of fresh produce in vibrant red, white, green and caramel, dressed with a nutty, licoricy pesto and will definitely evoke pleasant musings.  Your tomatoes and basil and, if you are more a farmer than I, eggplant, will be truly honored.

Tomato-Eggplant Salad
6 large ripe tomatoes
2 medium sized eggplants
20 slices provolone cheese
2 cups pesto
minced parsley for garnish

-Slice eggplants into ½ inch slices.  Sprinkle salt on both sides of slices and allow to sit for 30 minutes to draw out bitterness.  Rinse with water and pat eggplant slices dry, then fry in ½ inch hot oil in frying pan until brown and golden on each side.  Drain well on paper towels.
-Slice tomatoes in ½ inch slices. Cut provolone cheese rounds in half.
-On large flat platter place a tomato round, spread with spoonful of pesto. Spread an eggplant slice with a spoonful of pesto and place next to the tomato slice. Place a slice of provolone cheese next to the eggplant slice.
-Repeat arrangement of tomato, eggplant slices and cheese to create a round, swirling circle on the platter.
-Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

 Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced

-Place basil leaves in small batches in food processor and whip until well chopped (process about 3/4 cup at a time). Add about 1/3 of the nuts and garlic, blend again.
-Add about 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese; blend while slowly adding about 1/3 of the olive oil, stopping to scrape down sides of container.
-Process basil pesto until it forms a thick smooth paste. Repeat until all ingredients are used, mixing all batches together well.

-Basil pesto keeps in refrigerator one week, or freeze for a few months.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chocolate Mousse & Salted Caramel Trifle

What do egg yolks, baby pacifiers, butter, salt, and Dr. Spock all have in common - they come and they go - in and out of favor.  What was good for the goose of 1950 is not necessarily good for the gander of 2015 and one thing that the experience of living and eating long does is help you gain a bit of perspective to calmly ride the waves of favor in health, attitudes and cuisine.  That's why I was never too concerned when eggs were called the devil, when butter wore the horns of evil for many years for I knew the trident of "no-no-no' would pass on from those products to others as scientific investigation and experimentation have led us from one fad to another.  The influential "they" will decide eventually, when people just become tired of eating tofu, or pretending to like green slimy shakes that moderation was always a moderate guide anyway.  My hat goes off to those who are committed to a righteous cause, nutritional or otherwise, who exhibit the will power to follow what they consider a just cause....but if your cause is "just cause" and this is one of those moderation times, and this recipe, the extreme that sets the average at moderate, try this dessert and be grateful that fresh cream has had a resurgence.  Lovely, luscious chocolate; creamy, caramel, smooth and silky; layers that ribbon through one another and round about chunks of chocolate cake to glaze the inside of a glass container with whispy promises of the chocolate divine!  Of course this was often one of my daughter's birthday favorites, she being a connoisseur of all things delicious. My Israeli friend's mother made something similar, she called parfait but which I would have called trifle - either way, you will definitely want more than a trifle and it is one dessert that is simply "pairfait" (perfect)!
     Can we now talk about in the salt in butter, as in the salt in doughs and pastries, as in the salt in caramel - can you believe that there was an entire generation committed to the notion of "no salt is good salt"; in fact, my "Better Homes and Gardens" recipe book of the 1980's took all salt out of the baking recipes, and not long after, the word "butter" became taboo and margarine slipped in as the healthier choice in cookbooks of the times.  I tried to care enough to resist using the $.08 a pound butter we could get off the U.S. Navy ships that visited Tunis and regardless of what anyone said I was such a fan of the depth of flavor and richness that salt lends to sweets as well as savories when a friend asked me why the biscuits he made were so bland, I knew the answer. The day my doctor told me I needed more salt in my diet, I readily agreed I could make that sacrifice. So hold on for the ride, keep your moderate perspective, especially as you watch this dessert come and go.  It's a perfect way to go!

Chocolate Caramel Trifle:
1 chocolate cake, broken into small pieces and left to dry out on the counter for several hours.

Chocolate Mousse:
  9 eggs, separated
  2/3 cup sugar
  6 oz. milk chocolate bar
  4 oz semi or bitter sweet chocolate bar
  1 cup whipping cream
  1 tab. vanilla extract

 -Cream egg yolks with sugar by beating on medium high speed      -Melt chocolate in microwave (at 30 second intervals on high speed until melted) or in saucepan over lowest heat. Allow to cool 10 minutes.
 - Stir chocolate into egg yolks with mixer running on low speed with 1 tab. vanilla.
 - In a clean medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites until very     stiff  (about 5 minutes)– set aside.
 -Whip cream in another medium mixing bowl until soft peaks form.
 -Add whipped cream and egg whites to chocolate mixture,  and fold mixture together gently until chocolate is blended in (a few strikes of white may remain).
 - Chill about 30 minutes, until slightly set up.

Caramel Sauce:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 square butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. fleur de sel salt or kosher salt

-Over medium heat, combine butter, sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar,
 and karo syrup, until boiling, stirring frequently.
-Cook, stirring constantly, to softball stage.  Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. vanilla and salt.  Let cool to room temperature.

To Assemble:  In glass trifle dish, crumble half of the cake, to cover the bottom of dish. Spread half the chocolate mousse over the cake crumbs. Drizzle with half the caramel sauce. Repeat layers. Garnish with piped whipped cream and/or chocolate leaves.  Sprinkle top layer of caramel with a pinch of salt, if desired.

Persnickety P.S.:
**  I generally use a prepared chocolate cake mix and whip up my own, but buying already baked brownies or chocolate pound cake "takes the cake" for ease, though these make for a richer, sweeter dessert.  For a lighter dessert, use chocolate angel food or chocolate chiffon cake.

**To add another variety of texture, crush whole oreo cookies and sprinkle the crumbs as another layer on top of the caramel layers.  Zahra's favorite way!