Two years ago, having just moved back to Aspen, I was invited to join good friends at a local restaurant for dinner. Our paths hadn’t often crossed for the previous eight years so this was a celebration. What I recall most about that glorious evening – there was much to remember – is the small white bakery box sitting on my plate when I arrived. It was nondescript except for an elaborate bow that enclosed it.
After slipping off the ribbon, I discovered two individually wrapped, exquisite-looking chocolate chip cookies meriting an immediate Wow!, Mmmm, from a nearby table. A perfect Welcome Home gift. No one reading this Post fails to recognize the thought, time and effort that went into those cookies. Since 1965 the Pillsbury Doughboy (initiate stomach poke) has said it best, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven.”
My Speculoos are ready to share at a potluck dinner.
Although many of my friends often gift me with splendid homemade goodies, I’ve never reciprocated. Time to step up my game. Both of my French Fridays with Dorie recipes this week, Speculoos or Cheez-it-ish Crackers, are the perfect hostess thank-you, table favor, get-well-soon token or just because. These are easily made, delicious, and do-aheads that can park themselves in the freezer until needed.
It’s Springtime in the Rockies and time for babies. Mama Canada Goose is taking loving care of her 7 little goslings at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
Wait, there’s more. For me, packaging homemade food and bakery items is a frustrating task. Yes, there are excellent books, good magazine articles and Pinterest Boards devoted to this subject. Let’s get real. At 5:30pm, when you still need to shower, dress and feed the dog before a 7pm dinner invitation, who remembers that clipping about a perfect receptacle for the cookies you’ve just baked. Nothing to do but grab a paper plate and Saran Wrap. Yuck. Readers, I’ve solved that problem also. You can thank me later.
The Cheez-it-ish Crackers are ready to bake in the oven.
First, the baked goods. In Belgium Speculoos say Christmas and are made in celebration of Saint Nicholas’ name day. Here, where these crisp brown-sugar delicacies have recently become quite popular, any month is fair game. Make them big or small (I chose a 2” round cutter.), thick or thin and spicey, spicier or spiciest. This is an elegant cookie, perfect with coffee, tea or espresso. A snack, with milk. Dessert, with ice cream or sorbet. The recipe is below.
Cheez-it-ish Crackers. It’s not possible to eat just one.
Cheez-it-ish Crackers are the perfect nibble with before dinner drinks. I don’t often serve hors-d’oeuvres. To me, Dorie’s Herbed Olives,Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts and these Crackers are just the right touch with wine, champagne or mixed drinks. Made in a food processor, these are slice-and-bake, finger food. I used a 1 1/2” cutter. This recipe is also below.
Now here are two packaging ideas that, hopefully, will carry me, maybe, you, through the summer. This spring I’ve stopped by the many thrift shops in our Valley searching for tin containers or boxes imprinted with company names and logos. These are plentiful, colorful, inexpensive and always well-made. After washing them thoroughly and lining them with decorative waxed paper, they are the perfect containers for cookies, cupcakes, muffins, scones and bundt cakes. Voilà.
Secondly, between Target and Michael’s I’ve stashed a healthy inventory of paper products, stickers, ribbons, sacks and tissue to last for the rest of my life. Realizing I’m prone to exaggeration, that, dear Readers, is the truth. There is nothing I can make that won’t fit nicely into something. Voilà, encore.
SPECULOOS by Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table
Be prepared: The rolled-out dough needs to be chilled for at least 3 hours.
Makes about 50 cookies
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 (packed) cup light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
Tip: If you prefer spicier, add more ginger and cloves.
1. Whisk the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices together in a bowl.
2.Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and beat until well-blended.
3. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until the flour disappears into the soft dough. You may have some flour at the bottom of the bowl, or the dough may not be entirely smooth, but that’s normal. Using your hands (always my first choice) or a spatula, reach into the bowl and knead or stir the dough 2 or 3 times, just enough to eliminate any dry spots.
4. Divide the dough in half. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap until you have a circle that’s a scant ¼ inch thick. As you’re rolling, turn the dough over a couple of times and pull away the paper or plastic, so you don’t end up rolling creases into the dough. Put the rolled-out rounds of dough on a tray or cutting board and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 months.)
5. When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Choose a cookie cutter and remove 1 circle of dough from the refrigerator. Peel off the top piece of wax paper or plastic and cut out as many cookies as you can from the dough, carefully lifting the cutouts onto the lined baking sheet.
6. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are lightly golden and just slightly brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool.
Kept in an airtight container, the cookies will be fine for a week.
Mom, Dad, and 7 goslings.
CHEEZ-IT-ISH CRACKERS by Dorie Greenspan
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1/4 pound grated cheese (cheddar, Gruyere, and Emmenthal, are all good choices)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1. Add the butter, cheese, salt, and both peppers to the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until the butter is broken into smaller pieces and the mixture forms small curds. Add the flour to the food processor and pulse until curds form again. Keep pulsing. The dough gets very dry and crumbly first but then comes together into curds).
2. Turn the dough onto your work surface and knead briefly to bring it together. Divide in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to 3 days.
3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
4. Remove one disk from the fridge and roll it to a scant 1/4-inch thickness between sheets of parchment. Using a small cookie cutter,about 1 1/4-inches, cut rounds from the dough. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet – you don’t need to leave much space in between, these don’t spread.
5. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until the crackers are firm and golden. Use a spatula to transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool.
The crackers are good warm or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container. They’ll be good for at least 4 days.
FRENCH FRIDAYS WITH DORIE is an international group of food bloggers who are cooking their way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table Cookbook. Thanks to Kathy Van Bruinisse at Bakeaway with Me for reminding me to bake these tasty crackers. Visit our FFWD link by clicking here.
My Work. My Office. My Friends, Marcia (l) and Donna (r). It’s all good.
Relevance, today’s post and my French Friday’s recipe,Chicken B’stilla, is all about that word.
What I knew for sure, after Michael’s death, was I wanted to find myself. In those ten years, I’d lost Me. I also realized that everything about that experience must be treasured and mined. I needed to do better. Be a better person. I needed to make those years count, not only for my sake but to acknowledge a spouse who had gone through hell. That’s exactly, as some of you realize, what these past three years have been about.
Chicken B’Stilla, a sweet/savory Moroccan Classic and my recipe choice for this week’s French Fridays with Dorie.
We all have needs. That’s especially true as we age. Hey, Baby Boomers, do you hear me? I’ve never been important in that important, important manner. Never had much of an ego or yearned for power. My competitive gene got lost about five years ago. I do cling fiercely to my desire for independence and self control. If someone’s going to mind my business, it’s going to be Me. But most importantly, if only for myself, I need to remain Relevant. Be purposeful. If you’re truthful, so do most of you.
Baby Spinach salad with Dates & Almonds by Ottolenghi & Tamimi, Jerusalem cookbook, is the perfect greens side dish for Chicken B’stilla.
This blog and my returning to Aspen to be a volunteer forest ranger again is what’s floating my boat, pushing all my buttons. Lights on Bright allows me to be expressive, tell my story and keeps me cooking. Rangering covers everything else from keeping fit to constantly educating myself to social engagement with the vacationing public. Most importantly, the short-staffed, underfunded USFS is adamant about the value of our boots on the ground. Smokey Bear needs Me.
The delicious cinnamon/sugar topping provides the sweetness for this sweet and savory pie.
If only I had a video of the first time I stopped by The Gant’s front office before leaving on a patrol. For safety’s sake volunteers must tell someone daily where they’ll be working. I was all decked out in my ill-fitting, unfashionable uniform and sporting every badge and medal the USFS will legally allow. I’m wearing my Smokey cap, have binoculars around my neck, my backpack in place and am carrying my hiking poles. It’s a Look. Keep in mind, I also am old enough to be each employees’ grandmother.
My friend, Deb, also a volunteer ranger and I are trying to get in shape for the season!!!
I am not exaggerating. Those 5 kids staffing the front desk were shocked. Amazed. And, after a few seconds, laughing. I handed them an index card filled with information. “Here’s the deal,” I said, while leaning over the desk. “I am going to work and I need to check out and in with someone. You’re it. I’m hiking Midway today. If I’m not back by 6pm, call the USFS. I am serious.”
You can make the chicken and sauce a day ahead. The first step is to marinate the chicken pieces in onion, garlic and spices.
Suddenly, they all regained their be serious-composure. “We got it, Mrs. Hirsch,” Zach promises me and, for the past two seasons, they always have. Usually when I check back in with them, I am totally spent, exhausted. They are enthusiastic cheerleaders and make me feel proud of myself. We all need that.
The first four buttered filo sheets make the shell of the pie.
This week’s recipe, Chicken B’stilla, puts Relevance in a different spotlight. More than 35 years ago I took a cooking class with the renown food writer and Mediterranean food expert Paula Wolfert. On that extraordinary day, one of the dishes she made was the classic Moroccan delicacy, B’steeya. It is a sweet/savory chicken pie made with phyllo dough and eaten with two fingers. Although I easily mastered the two-finger approach, the recipe itself is involved and complicated. I never made it.
Crunchy, spicy pita croutons are a tasty addition to this salad. These are also delicious as a topping for soups or as munchies.
Today, Ms. Wolfert, 77 years old and living in Sonoma, suffers from Benson’s syndrome, a variant of Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t cook and fights her personal memory battle everyday. However, Paula Wolfert, an icon in the culinary arena, will always be relevant. Her nine pioneering cookbooks on Mediterranean cuisine and the learning experiences she’s provided for others are a lasting legacy.
Toasted almonds are layered on the bottom.
There is a Chicken B’stilla recipe in Around my French Table. My colleagues made it in January 2011 before I joined French Fridays. To honor Paula and knowing Dorie would carefully walk me through this recipe, I decided to conquer this classic. Surprisingly, 35 years later, it was not involved nor complicated. However, it was delicious and definitely party fare. For greens, I made Ottolenghi’s Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds from his Jerusalem cookbook. Perfect.
After the chicken and sauce is poured into the shell, I added another layer of almonds and then 4 sheets of filo for the top.
I linked to the salad recipe. The Chicken B’stilla information is below. Much of this dish can be made ahead. This is too unique and delicious to be put aside another 35 years. Try it.
CHICKEN B’STILLA by Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table
Six Main Course Servings
8 chicken thighs, skinned
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Big pinch of saffron threads
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
2 Tablespoons honey
freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
8 sheets filo (each 9 x 14″)
About 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces sliced almonds, toasted and chopped
Cinnamon sugar, for dusting
1.Put the chicken pieces, onions, garlic and spices into a Dutch oven or other large casserole and give everything a good stir. Cover and let the chicken marinate for 1 hour at room temperature. (The chicken can be marinated in the refrigerator for as long as 1 day.)
2. Add the chicken broth and 1 teaspoon salt to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so that the liquid simmers, cover the pot, and cook for 1 hour, at which point the chicken should be falling-off-the-bone tender.
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a bowl. strain the broth, saving both the liquid and the onions. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and cut it into small cubes or shred it.
Clean the Dutch oven and pour the broth back into it, or pour the broth into a medium saucepan. Whisk in the lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook until you have about 1 cup liquid. Reduce the heat to low.
4. Beat the eggs with the honey and whisking all the while, pour into the broth. Heat, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens enough that your whisk leaves tracks in it, about 5 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
5. Stir the chicken and reserved onions into the sauce, along with the cilantro and parley. (You can make the chicken and sauce up to 1 day ahead and keep it covered and refrigerated.)
6.Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
7. Place the filo sheets between sheets of wax paper and cover with a kitchen towel. Brush a 9″ round cake pan, one that’s 2 ” tall, with melted butter. Brush 1 sheet filo with butter and center it in the pan, so that the excess hangs over the edges. Brush another sheet and press it into the pan so that it’s perpendicular to the first sheet and forms a plus sign. Place a third and then a fourth buttered sheet into the pan so that they form and X; the overhang from all of the sheets should cover the edges of the pan.
Sprinkle half of the almonds over the filo. spoon in the saucy chicken, spreading it evenly across the pan, and top with the rest of the almonds. Fold the overhanging filo over the chicken.
8. Butter the remaining 4 sheets of filo, stacking them one on top of the other on the work surface. Using a pot lid or the bottom of a tart pan as a guide, cut our a 10 to 11″ circle. Center the circle over the cake pan and gently tuck the edges of the dough into the pan, working your way around it as though you were making a bed. Brush the top of the b’stilla with a little butter and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar. Place the pan on the baking sheet.
Bake the b’stilla for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for 20 minutes more. If the top seems to be getting too brown at any point, cover it loosely with foil. Transfer the b’stilla to a cooling rack and let rest for about 5 minutes.
9. Lay a piece of parchment over a cutting board, and have a serving platter at hand. Turn the b’stilla out onto the parchment lined board and then invert it onto the serving platter, so that it is right side up. Serve the b’stilla now, cutting it into wedges, or serve it warm or at room temperature.
French Fridays with Dorie is an international online cooking group making its way through Around My French Tablecookbook. To link to our site, go here. Thanks to Teresa who blogs at One Wet Foot for reminding me of this recipe. Please note the various spellings of B’stilla and B’steeya. Filo or phyllo? Fe Fi Fo Fum.
Slices of Pork Roast with Mangoes & Preserved Lemons
We’re talking pigs again. Last week I alerted you to the possibility that Wilbur, Babe and the Three Little Pigs can fly. Now it gets better. Did you know Piglet of Winnie the Pooh-fame sponsors an annual cookbook contest? I mean, how many Piglets do you know? It just may be that Piglet chooses the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year to face off competitively. This week I’m all about that idea and those 16 books.
Piglet, Winnie-the-Pooh’s best friend, is a fictional character from A. A. Milne’s books. Reprinted with permission of The Walt Disney Company
After better comes best. Here it is. This week’s French Friday’s with Dorie recipe choice is a delicious Pork Roast with Mangoes & Lychees. About those lychees. Not to be found in Aspen. I substituted with preserved lemons which may be tastier. This roast is a crowd pleaser, simply made and easily served.
The pork and added ingredients are ready to go into the oven for its final braise.
For my roast I bought a Hormel® Always Tender® Lemon Garlic Pork Tenderloin. Never fails me. I made this dish with no changes except the preserved lemons, thinly sliced. Use your meat thermometer because 140 degrees is the max for a moist, flavorful result. For dinner I added a baked sweet potato and Red Cabbage, Parsnip, Orange, Date Salad (later post). See the pork recipe below.
This week’s French Frieay’s recipe is ready to be served.
Most of you don’t realize on Friday, May 22, we Doristas (the affectionate name for our gang), will be cooking our last recipe from “Around My French Table, more than 300 recipes from my home to yours.” We began in October 2010 with Gougères. I was late to the party, joining in February 2011.
My “Around My French Table” cookbook.
I won’t belabor our French Fridays journey now. But before we begin discussing 16 new cookbooks I want you to see a veteran. My AMFT cookbook has lived in California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. If I’m traveling for more than one Friday, it’s joined me. If pages are torn from the book, it’s a good bet I traveled by air. The binding and contents parted company 37 recipes ago. Call it taped, stained, greasy, ripped and all mine.
In February of every year Food52, an online food blog ‘committed to helping people become better, smarter, happier cooks,’ sponsors The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks. During a three week period the year’s 16 most notable cookbooks (in the opinion of Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet OR the Food52 staff) face off. No categories. No classifications. No groupings. Toss them together and, like cream, see what rises to the top.
The sixteen cookbooks chosen to compete in The 2015 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks. Food52 Photo.
The competition is bracketed. Each face-off is individually evaluated by a judge, primarily food professionals. To my mind NPR’s host of All Things Considered, Melissa Block, and food writers Kate Christensen and Rosie Schaap were the crème-de-la-crème in this arena. The judges are apparently restricted by no criteria so creativity and sometimes, craziness reigns. Food blogger Adam Roberts’ critique (my personal opinion and, others, incidentally) was in poor taste and not amusing. Belittling someone? Uh, no. Take a look.
Of the 16 chosen 2015 cookbooks, I had recently purchased 4 but was not even aware of the others. That’s why I love this competition.
Of the 16 nominated cookbooks, I already owned four but was clueless about the others. The beauty of this quirky February Madness was meeting 12 other well-regarded cookbooks (an Amazon moment, perhaps). The judge’s evaluations, whether thumbs up or down, are a feast in words.
In the finals, it was David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen versus Brooks Headley’s Fancy Dessert. If you recall, I just cooked David’s cover recipe, Poulet À La Moutarde, and have already bookmarked 15 more recipes. It lost. Hey, David, in the words of Joe Jacobs, We wuz robbed.
Poulet À La Moutarde, a delicious mustard chicken from David Lebovitz’s “My Paris Kitchen” cookbook.
Check out Food52, an indisputable winner in the blogging world. Don’t miss next year’s Piglet Tournament. The competing 2015 cookbooks and Link are: Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts; A Kitchen in France; Flavor Flours; Baking Chez Moi (our own Dorie’s latest); Heritage; Prune; Huckleberry; Lunch at the Shop; Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food; A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus; Smashing Plates; A Change of Appetite; Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes; My Paris Kitchen; Green Kitchen Travels; Olive, Lemons, and Za’atar.
PORK TOAST WITH MANGOES & LYCHEES by Dorie Greenspan
1 2- to 2½-pound pork loin roast, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons honey
½–1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette or chili powder
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into thin strips
10 lychees, peeled and pitted if fresh, drained if canned ( To substitute preserved lemons, go here.)
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Pat the roast dry with paper towels. Place a Dutch oven or other heavy oven-going casserole over medium-high heat and pour in 1 tablespoon of the oil. When it’s hot, put the pork fat side down in the pot and cook for a couple of minutes, until the fat is browned, then turn it over and brown the other side. Transfer the roast to a plate, season with salt and pepper, and discard the oil.
3. Return the pot to the stove, this time over low heat, and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. When it’s warm, toss in the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Turn up the heat and pour in the vinegar — stand back, the scent of hot vinegar is very strong. When the vinegar has almost evaporated, a matter of a minute or two, pour in the wine. Let the wine bubble for 30 seconds or so, then add the soy, lime juice, and honey. Bring to a boil, stir in the piment d’Espelette or chili powder, add the bay leaf, thyme, mango, and lychees, and give the pot another minute at the boil.
4. Add the roast fat side up, baste with the sauce, cover the casserole, and slide it into the oven. Allow the roast to braise gently for 30 minutes, then check its temperature: you’re looking for it to measure 140 degrees F at its center on an instant-read thermometer. The roast is likely to need a total of 40 to 50 minutes in the oven, but it’s important to check early, since pork varies.
5. Pull the pot from the oven, transfer the roast to a cutting board, cover it lightly with a foil tent, and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes, during which time it will continue to cook (its temperature will probably rise another 5 degrees or so).
6. While the roast is resting, taste the sauce. If you’d like to concentrate the flavors even more, boil it for a couple of minutes. Don’t forget to check for salt and pepper.
7. Slice the roast, which makes 6 to 8 ample servings, and add the sauce.
Eight years ago, about this time, our daughter, Melissa, and her family were spending Easter with Michael and me at our home in Nevada. I was in a state of frazzle. The ramifications of Michael’s illness and the resulting responsibilities were overwhelming me. I’d recently had another meeting with our health care consultant who told me things were only going to get worse, never better. And our new phones, among other things in the house, didn’t work. It was a difficult holiday.
Orange-Almond Cream Tart, my French Firday’s with Dorie recipe choice this week
The following week, maybe Wednesday, Melissa called to chat. A few minutes into the call she casually said, “Mom, Stephen and I were just thinking…..”
(Whoa. Click into high alert. Whenever my son-in-law’s name is evoked, it’s not going to be good.)
“maybe it’s time you and Michael consider moving into a condo where everything is easier.”
As I recall the resulting conversation was very short. If my recollection is right, I just might have ended it with “When pigs fly.”
Today, after dispensing with a lifetime of belongings and a houseful of furniture, I just completed my second year of living in a 940-square foot condo where the phones always work and my chores are few. And, every so often I look up to see Wilbur, Babe and the Three Little Pigs passing by overhead. That’s the reason my French Friday’s with Dorie recipe this week is this scrumptious Orange-Almond Cream Tart. Here’s the lowdown on this sweet celebratory dessert and the special crew at The Gant who shared it.
The Front Office staff at The Gant who pronounced the Orange-Almond Cream Tart as fabulous and delicious. I’m going with that.
Americans bake fruit pies. The French prefer fruit tarts. Pate sablée (sweet dough) and almond cream are two of the three essential tart parts. Oranges are an unexpected twist but a flavorful one. Tarts are exquisite desserts often dismissed by us. I urge you to master the dough and the cream, quite easy tasks, then pick a fruit of your choosing. You’ll be pleased by the result. Although I’ve included the recipes below, here are four extra tips:
The Orange-Almond Cream Tart, ready for the oven..
1. Both the Pate Sablée and Almond Cream can be made days ahead.
2. If your tart crust starts to brown too much, cover it with tin foil.
3. Although the oranges need to be peeled and separated into segments, remember that the almond cream, when baked, covers up many sins!
4. Refer to my Post, https://www.lightsonbrightnobrakes.com/french-fridays-tart/, It’s All About the Tart, to see other ways to use sweet dough, almond cream and fruit (apples, pears, cherries, figs, peaches, nectarines, apricots, or plums) to make wonderful desserts.
This Pear-Almond Cream Tart is made with the same crust, filling but different fruit.
I returned home this week after a three month absence. If you recall, I live at The Gant, a 143-condo resort complex in downtown Aspen offering upscale lodging opportunities to tourists. Each condo is individually owned but managed by a staff of 100.
I returned home in time to join my dear friend, Luky, at the Aspen Mountain Club, where she is the Membership Director, for a delicious Easter Brunch.
Never did I believe this living situation would be such a fortunate stroke of serendipity. I arrived with more memories than baggage to live in the smallest spaces of my life. I can usually grow where I’m planted but even to me, this was a stretch. However, I soon discovered if I had visions of self-pity, licking my wounds or grieving, I’d picked the wrong address.
Tuesday morning I joined the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies Birdwalk. At our North Star Preserve we observed a Heron Rookery with 5 active nests. This Rookery , located in conifers, is the highest in Colorado.
The Gant staff is all about great service and providing comfort. “Are you having a good day, Mrs. Hirsch?” I’d be asked. “Do you need anything?”“Mrs. Hirsch, How’s your day going?” Honestly, I almost felt obligated to just get out there and, doggone it, not return until I’d had a good day.
Our nature group is beginning a study of Colorado water issues this month. My colleague, Donna, and her husband, Bernie, invited me and well-respected Colorado journalist Brent Gardner- Smith and his wife, Ann to dinner. Brent is a recognized authority on local water issues. We had questions. Perhaps, too many.
As you might suspect, I am very independent, closely guarding my privacy, and, of course, they all have jobs to perform. During the past two years we’ve settled into an easy and compatible relationship in which I’ve thrived. The goodwill of 100 who always have your back is something to treasure. I know that for sure.
Since the road to the Pass is closed, my friend and neighbor, Ann, and I hiked up towards Independence Pass this morning.
As these photos show, my returning to Aspen has been wonderful. But, sadly, I also returned home to grieve with my special friend, Karen, who unexpectedly lost her husband in February. Jim, newly retired from an unblemished career flying jumbo birds internationally, was my friend and one of this blog’s staunchest supporters. From the day I wrote my first French Fridays with Dorie Post, he called me Dorie. I knew he never understood the concept of FFWD nor had heard of Dorie Greenspan but to one and all, I was Dorie. If it was my project, he’d be a booster. “How ‘bout dinner tonight, Dorie?” or “Dorie,” he’d ask, “What’s your recipe this week?”
Before I left for my Cambria winter the three of us drove to Denver to see the Broadway production of “Kinky Boots.” For dinner, after meticulous online research, he promised he had found ‘the perfect tiny French bistro for Karen and Dorie.’ The bistro was indeed très magnifique and the evening, magical. No one dreamed it would be our last. Too young. So missed. Fly High, my friend.
This White-breasted Nuthatch lives in the cottonwood near my balconey.
Orange-Almond Tart by Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table
6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar 3/4 cup almond flour
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tsp. dark rum or 1 tsp. top-quality vanilla extract
To prepare the oranges: Using a sharp knife (I use a chef’s knife), cut a thin slice off the top and bottom of each orange so it can stand upright. Working from top to bottom and following the curve of the fruit, use the knife to remove the peel in wide bands, cutting down to the fruit. You want to expose the juicy fruit, so take the thinnest little bit of fruit away with each strip of peel. Carefully run the knife down the connective membranes to release the orange segments one by one. Place the segments between a triple layer of paper towels and let them dry for at least 1 hour, or for several hours, or even overnight. If you have the chance and the towels seem saturated, change them.
To make the Almond Cream: Put the butter and sugar in a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the almond flour and process until well blended. Add the all-purpose flour and cornstarch, and process, then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogenous. Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend. (If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula. In either case, add the ingredients in the same order.) You can use the almond cream immediately or scrape it into a container and refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours. It’s better if you can allow the cream to chill, but it’s not imperative. (The cream can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.)
To bake: When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the tart shell on it. Stir the almond cream, then turn it into the crust, smoothing the top. Arrange the orange slices in a decorative pattern over the top. Don’t cover every bit of cream — it will bubble and rise as it bakes, and it’s nice to leave space for it to come up around the fruit.
Bake the tart for 50 or 60 minutes, or until the cream has risen and turned golden brown. If you slip a knife into the cream, it should come out clean. Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar and enjoy!
French Fridays with Dorie is an international group of food bloggers cooking the book, Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan.
As you’re reading today’s post, I am winding my way home – leaving California and driving through Nevada, Arizona and Utah before reaching the Centennial State. It’s a gorgeous drive albeit 1,000 miles, giving me time to consider this memorable winter (and listen to several books-on-tape). Wednesday evening I walked over to Moonstone Beach to watch my last sunset, made even more intoxicating by a bottle of wine and this week’s FFWD recipe choice, Sweet & Spicy Cocktail Nuts.
Sweet & Spicy Nuts
Am I the only person on the planet who does not do appetizers? When having guests for dinner, an entrée, salad, sides and dessert is manageable. Adding apps to the mix puts me over the edge. Let’s talk rationale. When I throw my heart and soul into preparing a meal, why encourage guests to fill their bellies before sitting at the table? Any votes for my logic?
What I do really, really well are Nibbles. Those also-rans who hang out in small bowls on your tables: Herbed Olives or Cheez-it-ish Crackers or Mustard Bâtons and these addictive Sweet & Spicy Cocktail Nuts. I’ve linked to those recipes and include the nuts recipe below.
As I leave the Central Coast, here are my last takes on this gorgeous place.
1.BEST SUNSET – EIGHTY-ONE Winners. If it’s spectacular, gasp-worthy…and, free, I’m in. I caught 81 Pacific sunsets, compliments of Mother Nature, every one a stunner and breathtaking.
2.BEST WORST – This is what DROUGHT looks like. I savored each glorious, sunny day at the expense of California’s well-being. According to the World Bank, the Golden State ranks as the eighth largest economy in the world but the economic ramifications of having no water are huge.
3.BEST PARENTING – Let’s hear it for MAMA OTTERS. There are about 2,800 to 2,900 southern sea otters living in Cali’s coastal waters. Over the winter in Morro Bay I saw numerous mothers with pups. Female sea otters expend enormous amounts of energy on pup-rearing. What does Dad do? Hmmm
4. BEST FIELD TRIP – Spending a day at The MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM is a gift and an educational thrill. Located on the site of a former sardine cannery on Monterey’s famed Cannery Row, it’s marine life presented well and honorably. For years I have referred to their Seafood Watch® program for recommendations in choosing seafood caught or farmed in environmental-friendly ways.
5. BEST SUGAR SHAME – Driving on the Pacific Coast Highway en route to the aquarium, I erred and programmed my GPS destination to 47540 CA-1, the address of BIG SUR BAKERY. How did that happen?
Clara, waiting patiently for the crowd to quiet down before beginning her presentation.
6.BEST “MOONSTONE” MOMENT – Although living across from Cambria’s Moonstone Beach, I was clueless about moonstones. Knowing they were pearly white semiprecious stones consisting of alkali feldspar did not help me find any on their namesake beach. Clara, my granddaughter, is a rock hound and card-carrying member of the Inyo County Gem & Mineral Society. During a winter visit, her mother had asked her to give us a presentation on moonstones. She did. We hit the beaches the next afternoon. And, cheers to Ms. Clara, found some of those tiny beauties.
My first Moonstones
7. BEST (and, my favorites) WINERIES – The caveat here is I am not a wine connoisseur. If you visit the Paso Robles area, these are wineries worth visiting, good beginnings. So many others, so little time. In no particular order: Halter Ranch Vineyard, Grey Wolf Cellars, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Guyomar Wine Cellars, Adelaida Cellars and Opolo Vineyards.
8. BEST “TAKE ME HOME” – Linn’s of Cambria, a fine restaurant, cafe and gift store, is Olallieberry (pronounced oh-la-leh) heaven. A hybrid of a raspberry and a blackberry, “Olallie” is the Chinook Native American word for berry. Preserves. Jams. Vinaigrettes, Pies. Cookies. Vinegars. Sauces. Unique to Linn’s.
9. BEST “WHERE WERE U IN 1955” MEMORIAL
10.BEST “AHA” MOMENT – This blog began as an effort to help rebuild my Life again after too many years of sadness and grief. Writing, what I do best, became the tool to tell my story. Food, its anchor. Now, 4 years, 200 Posts and more readers than I ever imagined later, let’s call that job DONE. Channeling Eliza Doolittle, ‘I think I’ve got it.’ (Big Sigh. Deep breath. AHA.) After seriously considering dimming these Lights, I decided the future, depending upon good health, good luck and my making wise but adventurous choices, may still be worth sharing. Hopefully you’ll continue to support my ridiculous efforts to entertain, inspire and virtually feed you. A cautionary note, if I lose you, my loyal readers, I might go into relapse. Think about that.
Mama Otter, loving her Pup.
SWEET AND SPICY COCKTAIL NUTS BY Dorie Greenspan
Ample Nibbles for Six
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg white
2 cups nuts, whole or halves, but not small pieces, such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, or a mix
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spray a nonstick baking sheet with cooking spray/line it with a silicone baking mat/or use parchment paper.
2. Mix the sugar and spices together in a small bowl. Beat the egg white lightly with a fork in a larger bowl – you’re not making a meringue, just breaking up the white so that it’s liquid. Toss in the nuts. With a rubber spatula or your hands, stir to coat them with egg white. Then add the sugar-and-spice mixture and continue to stir so that the nuts are evenly covered.
3. Lift the nuts from the bowl, a small handful at a time, letting the excess egg white drip back into the bowl. Lay them on the baking sheet, separating them to lay flat. (You can run the dipped nuts against the side of the bowl to de-excess them also.) Discard whatever sugar-egg mix is left in the bowl.
4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the nuts are browned and the coating is dry. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the nuts to another baking sheet, a cutting board or a piece of parchment paper, break them apart, and let them cool completely. The nuts crisp as they cool.
Serving: These are good with everything from cider and beer to Champagne.
Storing: Kept covered in a dry place, the nuts will hold for about 5 days at room temperature.
French Fridays with Dorie is an international group of bloggers who are cooking their way through Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
In the spirit of full disclosure I’m admitting to List Addiction. My favorites are Self-improvement Lists like How To Strengthen Your Core: 8 Steps; Ten Tricks to Look 7 Years Younger or 9 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Retiring by 55. There are even audiobooks of Lists, 100 Ways to Simplify Your Life. I usually keep all that great advice to myself but this week I discovered a List that must be shared: Six Mini-habits That Can Drastically Change Your Life by blogger Rizwan Aseem.
I used beef instead of veal for this week’s French Friday’s recipe, Beef Marengo.
Before I drastically change lives, however, I am going to feed you. This week’s French Fridays recipe is Veal Marengo, a dish created in 1800 by Napoleon Bonaparte’s chef to honor his boss’ success at the Battle of Marengo. For those of you unfamiliar with that battle, the French beat the Austrians on Italian soil. That was a very big deal, deserving of a celebratory entrée and commemorated by Puccini’s three-act opera, Tosca
Unlike Napoleon, I don’t like veal. I substituted beef. If you prefer chicken, that works wonderfully also. Supposedly, Marengo, an upscaled version of stew, was created with food supplies available on the battlefield… meat, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and white wine. Someone found a few potatoes and a French classic which has endured for over 200 years was born.
The top-of-the-stove duties are completed and the stew is ready for the oven.
Veal (Beef, Chicken) Marengo, with a salad and crusty bread, is an ample and adaptable meal. I had freshly harvested leeks in my fridge so substituted them for onions. After refreshing a package of exotic mushrooms, I used them instead of ordinary ones. What makes this recipe so useful is its adaptability. Any vegetable you have in the fridge will work with your choice of meat, onions, tomatoes and wine. You will find the recipe, have fun with it, here.
Dorie suggests putting parchment paper between the pan and the lid to keep the liquids from evaporating. A new technique that worked.
Now back to drastically changing your life. The best thing about this List is you’re probably doing half of them already. To my thinking, that’s instant success. Your self-esteem is rising rapidly. You’re halfway home.
Habit #1:Make your bed shortly after you wake up in the morning.
You’ve finished a daily task immediately, leaving a neat, tidy bed to return to at night. When you return home in the evening, you’re weary. Maybe some efforts haven’t gone your way. The end of the day not only brings relief but also an inviting, comfortable bed.
Habit #2:Put things back where you’ve found them.
When you return things to their proper places you drastically clear clutter in your life. What is more important, when you need them again, they will be there.
Habit #3:Pick up clutter before you go to sleep at night.
Practice #2 so this habit will not swallow up your time. If you wake up to messy and cluttered, you wake up grumpy. You just do.
Last week-end was cold and blustery. It was perfect for my Beef Marengo menu but not so nice for the Great Egret.
Habit #4:Dress slightly better than the occasion calls for.
My daughter, Melissa, was once asked for the best advice her mother ever gave her. She had two answers. “The advice I now most appreciate from my mother,” Melissa said, “I hated while growing up. My mother insisted upon handwritten, timely thank-you notes. Her philosophy was: if someone did something nice for you, they needed to be thanked in writing, appreciating not only the gift, but the giver, and helping me realize how lucky I was to have both.”
The second piece of advice I gave her was when she left the house, wherever she was going, to look nice, to be presentable, showing respect. “My mother’s reasoning,” she said, “was if you’re dressed for the part, whatever it may be, you walk out the front door, confident, not having to think or worry about it.”
Habit #5: Be consistently enthusiastic and optimistic.
“You won’t even notice this,” Aseem writes, “but you’ll wake up happier, and with more energy and a skip in your step.”
Habit #6:Plan your day on a post-it note.
This is my favorite, unchartered territory for me. I’m giving it a month
Here’s how the post-it technique works. Whatever projects you have to do tomorrow, choose only the five that will make the most impact on your professional and personal life. Everything else goes on the back burner, in the drawer, forgotten for another day. Write them on a post-it. Then, post it. Check them off as you knock them off. At the end of the day, mission accomplished. Your mind, on most days, will no longer need to focus on the things you didn’t get done.
These shorebirds are hunkering down on a dark and gloomy Sunday.
My report card is #1, #4, #5, A-Plus. #2 and #3, C to C-. I’m not a slob but I plead guilty to messy. If I followed #2, I would not need 10 pair of glasses scattered around my house. If I followed #3, I would not need to devote three hours tomorrow morning to picking up my house. Right now, as I’m heating up Beef Marengo for tonight’s dinner, I’m thinking about tomorrow’s first post-it. And also wanting to remind you that French Fridays with Dorie is an international group of food bloggers who are cooking their way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table cookbook. You can visit the FFWD site here.