Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My So-Called French Life

I am in a summer funk. Which I find a little quizzical- Summer being bright and warm and shiny and all. There has been a few days of gray skies and rain around here, but truthfully, I love rainy days.
Lately that eighties Bananara gem "cruel summer" has been playing in my head. "The city is crowded, my friends are away, and I'm on my own". Everyone seems to be away or going away to more exotic or cosmopolitan places. Eustacia is in Amsterdam/Paris, Marcene is summering in the Hamptons, even Hub is going to Las Vegas, my brother is in Puerto Rico, Shelz is on her way to Israel. And I'm here in my regular daily life- summer version. I want to be somewhere else, somewhere different. A city that doesn't speak english. A spot where the food tastes different. A location where the people dress differently and have different rules and customs. I want something other. Really, I want to go to a place where I'm other.

The only (and cheapest) way I can travel while still having to be here, is through books and cuisine. I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, a really excellent book translated from french. Through it I felt like I was living in a grand and fabulous apartment in a chic neighborhood in Paris. Which led to me baking a tray of madeleines and fantasizing about my alternate reality French life, where I'm called Manon. And whenever I nibble on a madeleine, I think of my Grandmere Lisette's wonderful little sponge cakes that I would wash down with a bowl of hot chocolat upon returning from school everyday. Grandmere's madeleines are flavored with fresh lemon juice and vanilla extract. My best friend Nathalie's maman added a a few drops of rosewater to her madeleines, to delicate and delicious results. I am thinking about incorporating a chocolat dimension to my madeleines with les petites chocolat chips. Zut alors! How super would that be? That way it would be like eating the madeleine and drinking the chocolat all at once! Quel Genial!

Grandmere Lisette's Madeleines (sans mini chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease madeleine tin well. Melt 6 tbsp. butter and put aside to cool a little. In a medium bowl sift together 1 1/4 c. all purpose flour and 1 tsp. baking powder. In a separate large bowl beat 2 eggs and 3/4 c. powdered sugar until thick and frothy and the mixture displays ribbons when beaters are lifted. Fold in juice of half a lemon and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Starting with the flour mixture, alternately fold in the flour and melted butter in four batches. Let batter sit for about 10-15 minutes. The mixture will be sticky and tacky, carefully spoon into the tin. Bake for about 15 mins. or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack. Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hawaiian Sweet Bread

When I came across this Pineapple Macadamia Nut Bread recipe, images of Hawaii flashed before my eyes. Immediately I started to plot my Hawaiian Sweet Bread, using this recipe from the Los Angeles Times Cookbook circa 1981 as a template. Of course it had to have pineapple in it, no trip to Hawaii is complete without one of those fruity drinks served up in a pineapple. Macadamia nuts are also a ubiquitous flavor in Hawaii. They're a great addition because they provide a great crunchy texture and a mild, creamy, and nutty taste. I also decided to add orange juice and roughly chopped mandarin segments, because when I think of Hawaii I think of sunshine, and when I think of sunshine I think of sweet orange juice. I mixed in some shredded coconut to round out the tropical paradise feel, but I think it was unnecessary- the coconut flavor was lost in the mixture and the coconut texture was distracting. The crunch of the macadamia nut was enough. The wholewheat flour was OK, it worked with the flavors, but I think next time I'll use 1 cup of white flour to smooth it out a bit. Instead of using white sugar next time I will use brown sugar for a more caramelized flavor.
This sweet bread is a good starting point. My plan is to have a great recipe that I can turn to in the dead heart of winter when Hawaii is just a sunny wish.

Hawaiian Sweet Bread
Combine 1 c. egg beaters, 3/4 c. sugar, 1/2 c. canola oil, 3/4 orange juice, 3/4 c. crushed pineapple, 1/2 c. roughly chopped mandarin orange segments, and mix well. Sift together 1 tbsp. baking powder and 3 c. wholewheat flour. Mix flour mixture into pineapple orange mixture. Fold in 1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350F for about 55 minutes.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Chocolate Boulder

Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus pushing a huge chocolate boulder up the mountain. My chocolate truffle project aka Roxy Chocsmith (, is pretty much at a standstill. True, summer is usually slow in the chocolate world, and the R word isn't helping any (rhymes with depression). But what about all those anecdotal tidbits I hear about how during the Depression the only businesses that made any dough were 1) cosmetics 2) bars 3) chocolate. Very recently I heard on some news-type program that Hershey's numbers are up- because people are drowning their sorrows in chocolate. While I am not advocating chocolate suicide, I am totally recommending a well placed truffle here and there to escape into a a blissful, creamy, and dreamy chocolate dimension.
Today I made a couple of sales calls- toting my sweet wares and glad handing out samples to sweeten the pallettes. I had no trouble pushing the samples, and I took the eyes rolling to the back of skulls as an honest endorsement. No orders were placed, however my card was pocketed many times over. Who knows if they'll remember me when they need to? I always say that everyone's favorite thing is free chocolate. Paying for it? That's a different story.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

King Of Popcorn

Today they layed Michael Jackson to rest. Long live the King of Pop! And now can we get back to the regularly scheduled program? There is no doubt that this guy was super-talented, that he changed music, popular culture, maybe even the world - but enough already! Judging by the all-Michael/all-day media coverage you'd hardly know that the world is still spinning and that there's major unrest going on in Iran, and a coup occuring in Honduras. And not to mention, a long-winded recession that is still squeezing us all dry. More myopically, summer and camp are happening right here, right now.

Dinner is still a couple of hours away when they get home from camp in the late afternoon, so I'm trying to devise a few semi-healthy/wholesome type snacks to tide them over 'til the main event. Yesterday I made a huge bowl of honey-nut king of popcorn. It has a homespun Cracker Jack quality to it, and was pretty easy to make. I lightened it up with that spreadable butter/canola oil stuff, used half a cup of honey and half a cup of brown sugar. Baking it at a low heat (250F) for about an hour, made it crispy. I dedicated it to Michael Jackson, because one of my fondest memories from the early 80's in Seattle, was sitting at the small TV in the kitchen and watching the Thriller video on MTV like a zillion times, and discovering how wonderfully liberating music can be. Those are honey memories for me now, my early adolescence in the early 80's. As cliched and old-fartsy as it is to say that those felt like simpler times, it's true. The peanuts in the King of Popcorn? Well it's obvious why they're there- the guy was 25 different kinds of nut. So there goes my offering to the growing cult of Michael Jackson.. Now can we talk about something else....?

King of Popcorn

Preheat oven to 250F. Put 10-12 c popped corn in large bowl (or pot). In a saucepan melt 1/2 c. light butter, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/2 c. honey and bring to a syrupy boil. Mix in 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. vanilla. Pour over popcorn and 1 c. salted peanuts- mix well so that all popcorn is covered in syrup. Lay popcorn out on baking trays. Bake for about an hour, stirring every so often.