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- Des, The Grommet

Brunch

Cream Puffs and Profiteroles

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Cream puffs and eclairs aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of versatile desserts. But in reality they’re wonderful edible containers that can be big, medium or small, round or elongated, and filled with all kinds of delicious options sweet or savory! Whipped cream? check. pastry cream? check. crab salad? You bet.

Apple and Blueberry Cake

IMG_4429_FotorThis quick and easy cake comes from Janet Sawyer, owner of Little Pod and author of Vanilla. It is an adaptation of a Mary Berry favorite. (Mary Berry is a well-known English culinary professional and cookbook author.)  It’s perfect as an afternoon cake and can also be served for brunch. Vary the fruits based on the season; it’s as adaptable as it is easy to assemble.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

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If you aren’t sure whether or not you like rhubarb, this is a good place to start. If someone’s given you rhubarb, pick up some strawberries and make this jam. It’s quick and easy to make and you don’t have to process it as it will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks. Make some toast and try. If you like it, terrific. If you don’t, you have an automatic gift for someone who does.

Winter Mandarin and Pineapple Shrubs

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After experimenting with berry shrubs last summer, I could hardly wait to try my hand with autumn and winter fruits. Apparently I’m not alone on this adventure. Specialty Food Magazine just published an article on the popularity of the sour (I prefer the word tart) flavors that were very popular in the US until sugar became more available and less expensive. The trend is driven by concerns over the negative effects of a sugar-heavy diet and a greater commitment to good health as well as by those of us who are willing to explore new ways to use foods and flavors and expand our boundaries (which I am except when it comes to chocolate-coated grubs and other oddities). I do find it exciting that fermented foods like kefir, bitters, shrubs and tonics are gaining popularity as are sour cherries and berries and other “old fashioned” flavors.

Chocolate Cream Scones

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Who wouldn’t want a plate of scones fresh from the oven? Especially cream scones! Delicate, tender, with flecks of melted chocolate, these scones were originally the brain-child of the chocolate diva, Alice Medrich. My friend and co-instructor of classes on vanilla at our local community college, Anne Baldzikowsky, tweaked the recipe slightly by dusting Rain’s Choice Vanilla Sugar over the tops of the dough, making them sparkly and slightly crunchy.

Fig and Berry Salad with Port-Balsamic-Vanilla Glaze

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Late July heralds the beginning of the US fig season. In Europe, most especially Italy, everyone who can, has a fig tree. Italian immigrants who came to the US in the late 19th and early 20th century, planted them in barrels in apartment courtyards and cottage gardens, holding onto the memory of warm figs harvested from trees in sun-baked gardens and hillsides. Although I love fresh figs, they aren’t on the radar of many Americans. When I offered some of this spectacular salad to my neighbors, several said they had never eaten figs or they tried them as kids and didn’t like them though after sampling this dish, they converted. Granted, their texture isn’t the most child-friendly, but if this was your experience, I highly recommend trying them again as an adult as you may discover how special they actually are.

Fresh Berry Shortcakes

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Several years ago I had a terrific recipe for shortcake biscuits. Naturally, I lost it. I didn’t know this, of course, when I decided that it would be the perfect dessert to bring to a party I was attending. Even though it was late in the season, the warm, sunny days we’ve had has meant a never-ending abundance of strawberries and, even as I write this, it appears it’s far from finished.

Fresh Berry Vanilla Shrub

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Have you noticed how food trends and recipes are recycled — what’s long forgotten is once again the next best thing? Except it often reappears transformed. As an urban culture obsessed with food, we have access to endless ideas and techniques to tease out the best.

I especially noticed this about the trending popularity of shrubs. Shrubs are an old beverage. Old as in 1500’s Renaissance era old, maybe even older. The word comes from the Arabic shurb, drink and/or the Hindi Sharbat, a brightly flavored syrup made from fruits or flowers and herbs, blended into cold water and enjoyed as a refreshing beverage.

When I was growing up my mother talked about drinking raspberry shrub at her grandparents’ farm in Ontario, Canada. While I adored anything raspberry, I couldn’t get past the vinegar, a key ingredient in shrubs. She said it was such a refreshing drink on a hot day. I wondered how anything containing vinegar could possibly be refreshing. Drinking something as sharp as vinegar on a hot day — really??

Fast forward to the current cocktail trend. For the last several years I’ve watched bitters, tonics and shrubs evolve to near rock star status in blogs, natural food stores, tony bars and  upscale restaurants. I flirted with making it, but held off until a recent blog on Food 52 brought me to the cliff’s edge.

I jumped…and I’m sooooo happy I did.

The Queen’s Best Stuffed Russian Eggs

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Are you crazy for stuffed eggs too? Really, I can’t imagine spring and summer picnics – inside or out – without these silky smooth, delicious gems.

What’s interesting is there are so many variations, both regional and individual. Years ago I had a boyfriend who always referred to them as Russian eggs. I actually prefer that name over “deviled” or “stuffed” but I was curious if Russian eggs contained specific or unique ingredients.

Artichoke Saute with Honey Mustard Sauce

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 If you are fortunate enough to live where you can get the small artichokes, here’s a delicious recipe for you. And if you can’t get baby artichokes, check your market for frozen artichoke hearts. You can substitute two packages of frozen artichokes for the fresh ones. They won’t be quite the same, but they’ll most certainly be tasty.

Peperonata on Soft Polenta

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 With so many of us dealing with food allergies such as wheat, gluten or dairy, as well as wanting fresh entree ideas that can be made ahead of time for weeknight dinners, I’ve been rewriting some of our recipe base to brighten up our meals and make them both healthy and weeknight friendly.

Jam Cakes

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Jam cakes are a quick-to-make dessert with ingredients usually found in refrigerators and pantries. The recipe makes six or more cupcake size “cakelets,” depending on the size of your tins.  You can use whatever type of jam you’d like. In the photo above I’ve used raspberry jam. In the photo below I used lemon curd. The cakelets were very lemony and delicious. I’ve also sometimes skipped the glaze and used powdered sugar instead. Perfect for an afternoon treat or packed for lunch at school or work.

Chestnut Jam Tart

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Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.

Chestnut Jam Tart
Makes 10 servings

Alice says, “A jam tart seems like a relaxed, simpler-to-make linzer torte, with an Italian accent instead of a German one. A jam tart is called fregolata in Italian, and it’s pretty and festive and giftable, too. I thought it fitting (and extra delicious) to swap the usual shortbread crust for a chestnut crust. The dough is quick to make by hand and is then pressed flat into a tart pan with no worries about the sides since the dough forms its own edge as it bakes. Any jam will do for the topping, but the prettiest and most flavorful are red fruits like cherry, plum, raspberry, blackberry, or even strawberry. The jam is topped with crumbled bits of dough and sliced almonds and pushed into the oven to do its own thing.”

Sikarni

This recipe comes via Janet Sawyer, who got the recipe from Lalu Mahato, head chef at Nepal’s Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, which was opened by Edmund Hilary.  A long journey, but a lovely way to enjoy yogurt as a breakfast or dessert. If you’re serving it as a dessert, it would match well with our Cardamom, Pistachio and Vanilla Shortbread.

Conchas – Sweet Mexican Breakfast Bread

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Sweet Breakfast Breads with Flavored Shell-Shaped Toppings
From Yucatan: A Culinary Expedition by David Sterling
David says, “The Conchas I enjoyed on my first trip to Mexico many years ago still stand out as the benchmarks: gently sweet, yeasty dough–almost creamy–topped with crumbly, sugary caps in different flavors. None that I have tried since come close to that original ecstasy–except for homemade ones. “Conchas” means “shells” and refers to the characteristic pattern traced in the flavored toppings.”

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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