Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Peppers hanging to dry on a house in Espelette which is in the Basque region of France.

Piperade is a traditional Basque dish made with sweet peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and seasoned with piment d'Espelette, a pepper grown around the French town of Espelette. Piment d'Espelette has a mild heat and is delicious on a variety of foods from vegetables to popcorn, one of my husbands favorite ways to use it. Piperade is traditionally served with chicken or eggs but is excellent with most any meat that you would enjoy with red sweet peppers alongside. Leftover piperade is great and we love it with spätzle which makes for a German-Basque fusion meal. Our first introduction to piperade was when our French daughter-in-law made it for us and the recipe I use is based on her recipe. Though it is best made with pimento d'Espelette, and I have always made it with the Basque pepper, it is not easy to find in the U.S. You will likely have to order it online. I have read that you can substitute hot paprika or mild New Mexico chile powder.

1.25 lb tomatoes
3 large red sweet peppers, seeded and cut in julienne
2 large yellow onions, peeled and cut in julienne
6 slices thick cut bacon, the best you can find, cut in lardons
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs of thyme
salt to taste
2 tsp piment d'Espelette
1 tblsp honey
Brown the bacon in a deep heavy pan, I use my le Creuset Dutch oven. When the bacon is cooked remove it and put it aside until the dish is finished, leaving the fat in the pot. Peel and cut the onions into julienne. Add the onions to the pot with the bacon fat and let them cook over medium low heat while you prepare the other vegetables. Give them a stir from time to time. Remove the seeds from the peppers and cut them into julienne. Add them to the pot with the onions. My daughter-in-law removes the skins from the tomatoes, but I don't. So it is your option whether to do it or not. If you choose to, cut an x into the end opposite the core and dip in boiling water for about 1 minute. Place in cold water. The skin should come right off. Core the tomatoes, slice them in half across the equator and gently squeeze out the seeds into a bowl. Cut the tomatoes into large dice and add them to the pot. Put the tomato seeds and any juice with them into a food mill. Put all the juice recovered from the seeds into the pot. Add the herbs, honey, and piment d'Esplette. Bring the heat under the pot up to medium high, when the contents just come to a low boil, cover the pot and lower the heat so that the piperade will just simmer. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Piperade is one of those dishes that is better the next day. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Quick and easy ways to enjoy funny looking root vegetables

We signed up for a weekly delivery of fresh locally grown vegetables. Given the time of year and climate, this means lots of root vegetables.

As a Finn, it's hard to think of kohlrabi as anything other than a classic Christmas casserole dish. Turns out that peeled, raw and sliced appropriately, it is a delicious dipped in hummus (and presumably anything else you may enjoy dipping, say, a carrot, in). So easy and so yummy.

Once I google imaged 'root vegetable that looks like ginger' (and yes, google auto filled this search about half way through) we determined that we had received a Jerusalem artichoke. I'd feel a little rude posting the recipe we ended up using in full here, so I'm going to link to the delicious recipe for oven caramelized Jerusalem artichokes instead. It was unbelievably tasty. We dipped in clarified butter.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dorie Greenspan's Swedish Visiting Cake

Three friends of mine have asked for this recipe and so I thought I would add it to my blog to have it easily found in the future. This cake is super quick and easy to make, with very little mess. A 9" cast iron frying pan is perfect for baking it. The cake is firm like a pound cake which makes it easy to eat with your fingers. It is wonderful with a cup of tea.

Swedish Visiting Cake
1 cup sugar plus a little more for sprinkling
Grated zest of 1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon)
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract (Dorie says it is optional, but I think it is necessary)
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional, I left it out)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick (8 tblsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
about 1/4 cup sliced almonds (blanched or not)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a seasoned 9" cast-iron frying pan or other heavy ovenproof skillet, a 9" round cake pan or a pie pan.
Put the sugar into a bowl, add the lemon zest and rub it into the sugar with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts if you use them. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour. Then fold in the melted butter. Put the batter into the baking pan you are using and smooth the top with the spatula. Scatter the almonds on top and then sprinkle with a little sugar. Place the pan on a baking sheet at the middle level of the oven. (I neglected to do this the last time I made it and it didn't seem to make a difference. I was using a cast-iron frying pan and it may be more important if you are using a lighter weight pan.)
Bake the cake 25-30 minutes, until it is golden and a little crisp on the edges. Run a thin knife around the sides to loosen it. You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the pan or on a serving plate. Cut into small wedges and eat it with your fingers. The cake keeps well for up to 5 days and will freeze well if you need to keep it longer

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Steak in Tortillas with Fresh Avocado Salsa

This is a dish that is loved by both my sons and now that they are married, by their wives. I have to make it for them every time they come home to California. This is a dish that is by far the best during tomato season. If you want to make it at another time of year, use cherry tomatoes. If you can't find Anaheim chiles, also called green chiles, you may substitute poblano chiles. The steak should be marinated at least 6 hours, overnight is better. If you can find masa harina and have a tortilla press, make your own tortillas. The recipe is based on one that can be found in Sunset Favorite Recipes II.

BBQ Steak
1.5 to 2 pounds sirloin steak
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry oregano or 1.5 tsp fresh
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves minced garlic
Combine the marinade ingredients in a container which closely fits the steak. Add the steak, cover, and refrigerate it for at least 6 hours. If the steak is not covered by the marinade because the container doesn't fit closely enough, flip it over several times.
When you are ready to cook the steak, remove it from the marinade, let it drain, and cook it over glowing coals until it is done the way you like it. We like it medium rare. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes. Slice the steak diagonally across the grain into strips and then slice the strips into bite size pieces.

Fresh Avocado Salsa
4 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 1 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
3 green onions (scallions), both white and green part, finely chopped
3 tablespoons canned Anaheim chiles, seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 Haas avocados, diced just before serving
Combine all the ingredients except for the avocados in a bowl and cover. Let sit for a few hours at room temperature for the flavors to blend. If you must prepare the salsa earlier, refrigerate and then allow to come to room temperature before serving. When the steak is off the bbq, fold the avocado into the salsa.

Make 18 corn tortillas and keep warm or wrap purchased ones in foil and heat in the oven.

Place several pieces of steak on a warm tortilla, top with a large spoonful of salsa, fold and enjoy.
Serves 6

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Flammkuchen aka Tarte Flambee aka Alsatian Pizza

I've gotten quite a taste for the old Flammkuchen since being in Germany. They tend to be always a reliable and inexpensive option anywhere you eat, and it's hard to beat the combination of bacon, onions, and creme fraiche. But I wanted to do as my sister-in-law did, which was turn it into a quick and satisfying weeknight meal.

Unlike in Saarland, which is reasonably close to Alsace, we don't have a decent pre-made dough in the
Do you really have a better idea for dinner tonight?
stores, (the only option being some pre-made pizza kit which included what must have been a dreadful tomato sauce). So I hit the internets and was pleasantly surprised that one can make the dough without yeast, thus saving loads of time. After trying a few I found I was happiest with the "einfacher," or simple and easy, Flammkuchen. I've already got the recipe memorized and now can crank it out quick and easy.

50g chopped and cooked bacon
Creme fraiche
Red onion and shallot

200g flour (about 1 1/3 cup)
110ml water (just under 1/3 of a cup)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix the dough ingredients, gather into a ball and work a few times so it has some cohesion. Don't work too much or it will be harder to roll. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it sit in the 'fridge for 30 minutes if you have time.

Preheat oven, hot is good. Pull dough out of 'fridge, roll out thin. Cover with creme fraiche and tasty bits, then throw in oven. Let bake until edges of dough brown a touch. Remove, divvy, eat. You can have this thing from start to table in 45 minutes once you get it down.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


For the 4th of July, I made some Carnitas sliders with guacamole, and am posting the carnitas recipe by request.  This is adapted from David Lebovitz with a few changes:

  • 4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks, extra fat removed (the original recipe calls for larger chunks, but smaller chunks lead to better seasoned carnitas in my experience
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons of saindoux (lard)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced
1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. 
2. Heat the lard in a dutch oven set on the stovetop. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.
3. Once all the pork is browned, pour in about a cup of water and a bottle of a strong brown ale (I used Chimay bleu), scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.  Add more water if necessary to almost cover the meat
4. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.
5.  Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.
7. Braise in the oven uncovered for 1 1/2-2 hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter.
8. Before serving, heat the pork in a bit of lard and shred the pieces with a spatula.
For the sliders, I made a batch of guacamole and grilled the buns with a bit of butter. If there is leftover carnitas an original spin is to cook it with homemade spaetzle, delicious!

Stove Top Version
I had bought pork for carnitas using J's recipe and invited friends over to share them when there was a major problem with my oven. The baking coil died. I did some quick research and it turns out that carnitas can easily be cooked on the stove top and they are still great cooked that way.
Heat the fat in a large dutch oven and while it is heating salt the meat. Brown the pieces of meat over medium high heat on all sides. You will have to do that in batches because you don't want to crowd the pan. When all the meat has been browned, put all of it in the pan and add the seasonings, sprinkling them over all the meat and then stir. Next add all the liquids with enough water to almost cover the meat and stir again. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to keep the liquid bubbling but not boiling. You want the heat level to be higher than a simmer because you want all the liquid to evaporate. That will take about 2 hours or longer. When the liquid is getting low watch the pot carefully because you don't want to burn the carnitas. They will be nicely crispy around the edges at the end because when the liquid is gone they will be cooking in the fat. When the carnitas are as crispy as you like enjoy them in a taco or on a slider with a good beer to wash them down.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gateau Basque

A year and a half ago we spent three weeks in the Basque region of France. Early in our stay we went to the weekly market in St. Jean Pied de Port and bought a traditional pastry, a gateau Basque, from a vendor there. We loved it and when we finished it we bought several others at other locations. Unfortunately none of the others were nearly as good in our opinion and when we returned to the weekly market we never saw that first vendor again. I have wanted to try making a gateau Basque but have been worried about it because we found that they varied so much. There are two basic types. One is filled with cherry preserves and the other is filled with pastry cream. We prefer the type with pastry cream but there are lots of variations in the recipes and I had no idea what made the difference between a tasty cream filled gateau Basque and a meh one.  I combined several recipes and happily came up with a result we liked.
A couple of the recipes warned that the dough used to enclose the cream filling is very soft and sticky. The warning did not prepare me for how very soft and sticky the dough is. When I had the gateau assembled in the pan, it was not a pretty sight and I was very worried. Fortunately as it baked, the pastry smoothed and it ended up looking very nice. The dough recipe makes more than is needed, but not a lot more. One recipe suggested using the extra dough to make cookies, but they would be very difficult to shape with such a soft and sticky dough and so I don't know that it is worth it for a few cookies. The dough should be rolled between sheets of plastic wrap. Flour the bottom piece of wrap and flour the top of the dough before placing the wrap on top of it. Flip the plastic wrap covered dough several times as you roll it out to keep the surface as smooth as possible.
If you decide to grind your own almonds, you can easily do it in a food processor. Pulse blanched sliced almonds with at least 2 tablespoons of the sugar. The sugar will keep the almonds from heating up and getting oily or worse, turning into almond butter.
I served the gateau Basque with unsweetened sliced strawberries on the side and the combination was delicious. One recipe I saw included brandied cherries dropped onto the cream filling and that would be nice.

Gateau Basque
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
90 grams (3/4 cup) finely ground almonds (same as almond flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter cut into chunks
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon, preferably Meyer
Whisk dry ingredients together. Place in bowl of electric mixer and put butter chunks on top. Beat  with paddle attachment until butter is incorporated and the mixture looks sandy. Combine eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat into butter mixture just until combined. Divide dough into 2 disks on plastic wrap, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap. Refrigerate at least 3 hours.
Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch sifted
1 vanilla bean
1 to 2 tblsps Kirsch
3 1/2 tblsp butter cut into bits, at room temperature
Place milk into a small saucepan, add seeds from the vanilla bean, and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring often. Whisk the cornstarch and sugar together. Place the egg yolks into a medium heavy bottomed saucepan and whisk in the sugar mixture until thick and well blended. Whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Whisk without stopping and drizzle the milk in slowly. Still whisking, add the rest of the milk in a steady stream. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously, constantly and throughly, making sure to get the edges of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat and add kirsch and butter and stir until smooth. Place the pan in ice water to cool and then place plastic wrap on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate until cold.
Preheat the oven to 350º F and butter a 9" springform pan.
Roll out the larger disk of dough between pieces of plastic wrap as instructed in introduction into a 12" circle. Peel off the top layer of wrap, flip so that the exposed surface is down as you lower the dough into the pan. Pat the dough into place in the pan and then peel off the other layer. The dough will come up the sides of the pan. Spread the cooled pastry cream onto the surface of the dough. Roll out the other disk. It should be the same thickness but the diameter will be smaller. Place over the pastry cream in the same manner as the first circle was placed in the pan. Press the dough over the cream. The dough will come up the sides. Press the two layers of dough together and then trim it so that it is no more than 1/2" above the top of the top layer.
Egg Glaze
1 egg
1 tblsp milk
Beat egg and milk together and then brush over the top of the gateau. Use the tines of a fork to make a crosshatch pattern on the top.
Place the gateau Basque on a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and bake 20 minutes. Then rotate and place on a rack 1/3 of the way from the top of the oven and bake for about 35 or 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Cool 10 minutes, run a blunt knife around the edges, and remove the sides of the springform pan. Allow to completely cool before serving.
Makes 10-12 servings