I Write Because…

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“The butterfly does not count the years but the moments for this, its short time.” Great writing!

I believe we all are writers. The only thing separating us are the filters we choose to use to describe an experience. Our filters may be color-driven, emotionally driven, memory-driven or personal belief-driven. It’s all these variations that make one moment in time appear in a thousand different ways. I write to hold certain moments close, to learn from the past, and to celebrate my friends and family.

I find it fascinating to take a snapshot of an event in my mind, capturing only my feelings and remembrances. Reviewing past photographs helps me to go deep within and unearth times in my life that mark a turning point. I can feel the salt on my skin after viewing photos of my early years rafting all day long at Mission Beach. I smell Jessie’s puppy breath, my first dog who was my constant companion while living in Australia, by just looking at a picture I have of her hanging in my bedroom. I feel gratitude and a sense of accomplishment after looking at photos of the tiny fig tree I planted not even four years ago and seeing how at home it now feels at a height of over seven feet tall. Always when I see photos of Italy, my heart pounds and I am in love again. All these moments were important to me in some way and by expressing in writing the emotion they carried, give me intense satisfaction. Sharing these emotions reveal our vulnerability and make us human.

Five years of blogging have taught me how to look within and not be afraid of who I am. This platform has given me confidence to keep writing, even more fervently. As I embark on year six, the camera continues to click as I change the lenses more frequently, fine tune my focus and always look for the unexpected.

To celebrate the past five years of my writing journey, I’d like to share some of my favorite stories.

A long ago past adventure in Paris: June 4, 2014  Time Travels

A recent Italian love:  May 18, 2017 Take Another Little Piece of My Heart

Inner feelings: March 25, 2015 My Life as a Leaf

My favorite pastime: April 12, 2016 Play Ball!

Family Stories:  June 18, 2014 A Drink of Nature
May 17, 2016 The Egg

Art!: Artful Traveling

Coming soon! A new look for this blog with easier navigation and ability to print recipes!

Writing frees my soul, grounds me in the present, and makes the fire of my spirit dance with delight. Mary Knight

Ciao for now,
Mary

The Music of Food

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finished Carrie Ann

The Carrie Ann

Music and cooking both have a beat, a pulse, a flow of notes and a sequence of ingredients. Listening to music while cooking brings out the best in my recipes and in me. My spirit is light as I dance around the kitchen swaying to the tunes, singing along and feeling totally in the groove of the moment. It’s amazing how different styles of music influence my final product. My food can actually take on the character of the music being played and dictate how the recipe will develop. My favorite – Rock and Classic Vinyl of the 60’s and 70’s. What is it about the tinniness of the tambourine that makes my shoulders keep time with its beat? It brings out the edginess and risk-taking in my recipes. Sinatra’s cooing makes me slow down and go more mainstream. Maybe even create a new cocktail to honor the era. Another love – blues and soul music- touches my soul and sends me swaying into a nostalgic bliss.

Everyone knows that music is the Universal Language but recently I’ve felt an even deeper connection, an awakening as to how it enhances my everyday living and balances me like nothing else can. I even hear it in my garden with the songs of multiple birds and the sound of rustling leaves that the music of the wind creates. It’s like a spiderweb of energy that vibrates across the world, bringing hope and healing to all of us, everywhere.

Music pulls out stagnancy and draws in good vibes. It’s a tonic. It intoxicates and releases memories of old and brings them to the surface. My food always tastes better and is more attractive when listening to something that lights up my spirit and draws me in.

In honor of music’s tonic for the soul, I wanted to design a cocktail of vintage meets rock. My mom actually created this drink last night, under the influence of Frank Sinatra. I named it the Carrie Ann, after one of my favorite songs , (actually a Hollies song) by one of my favorite artists, Graham Nash. I recently saw Nash perform in Riverside and my love for him and his music was rekindled. This cocktail combines whiskey with brandied cherries and maraschino cherry liqueur. Whiskey lends the “vintage” feel while the music of Nash, inspiring the addition of the cherries, is the “rock.” You can drink it “neat” or over ice with a heavy dose of sparkling water as a delicious summer refresher. I was in love after my first sip. Thanks Mom for your superb bartending skills. I can’t wait for your next invention!

The Carrie Ann

2 brandied cherries*
1/2 teaspoon sugar or one sugar cube
1 1/2 ounces good whisky. We love Bushmills.
Dash of Angostura bitters
1/2 ounce Maraschino cherry liqueur**
1 Tablespoon brandied cherry juice
ice
Sparkling water
cherry on top for garnish

*I make my own brandied cherries but you can purchase them too.
**I used Maraska Maraschino Cherry Liqueur from Croatia. A gift from dear friends, Alan and Jenny, it is delightful and delicious.

ingredients

Start with great ingredients!

Muddle the brandied cherries with the sugar.
Add ice to fill.
Pour over the whiskey.
Add the maraschino cherry liqueur and the brandied cherry juice.
Add a dash of Angostura bitters.
Stir.
Add sparkling water to taste and garnish with another cherry.

Another version is to make as directed without the sparkling water and then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry. A little stiffer drink but a great sipper.

“The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.”
James Joyce, Dubliners

There really is a kind of insane beauty around us all the time. It’s just a question of learning to slow down, take a deep breath and meet the moment.” Graham Nash

I couldn’t agree more!

Ciao for now,

Mary

“Take Another Little Piece of My Heart”

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The most peaceful, beautiful place on earth. Lucca, Italy

My heartstrings are tugging like a hug you don’t want to release. This feeling waxes and wanes but mostly waxes. It’s a longing to be in another place, another reality far different from what I’m used to. A chance to reinvent oneself, live in the moment and not be caught up in the hustle bustle and busyness of big city living. It hits me hardest after I receive a letter from my dear friend, Angela, in Lucca, Italy, who tells me the news of our mutual friends, her painting and the latest art exhibits, her pets and garden. I flashback to our meals cooked together, excursions to the countryside and festivals, and friends picking grapes for our wine. How I wish I could trade places with her for a year!

What spell, exactly, does the charming town of Lucca have on me that calls to my heart like a siren at sea? In my eyes, it’s the one place in this world where everything I love comes together so naturally. Ancient history, walled cities, pasta, gelato, sculpture, pecorino cheese, opera, olive oil, wine, art, cobblestone streets with narrow alleyways, homes of rustic reds and harvest golds, the beautiful sing-song language (so romantic), markets of fresh garden vegetables, espresso, scarves, Buccellato bread, prosciutto and the list goes on.

Whenever I feel the need to return to my dreams, I review my favorite photos of Lucca. I thought I’d share a few that tell a story about the countryside, people and food I embrace so tightly. I hope you enjoy them and are able someday to travel to this special piece of paradiso. I’ve included an amateur video I took of my friends, the opera singers, Michelle and Mattia performing in a small church in Lucca. Bellissimo!

In the words of  the famous song by Janis Joplin, [Lucca}, “takes another little piece of my heart” every time I visit.

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Angela

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My favorite photo. The view from my room at La Mimosa. Spectacular!

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy”
Giuseppe Verdi

Ciao for now!

Love,

Mary

Poof!

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Mother’s Day soufflé brunch. It deflates the minute it is removed from the oven!

When was the last time you made a soufflé? That long? Let’s fix that!

Soufflés are one of those basic recipes that every chef is expected to master. It’s based on technique. Once you understand the basic bechamel sauce and how to properly whip egg whites, the world is your oyster. The recipe I am sharing today showcases a simple cheese soufflé with herbs. I love to delve into my collection of reference cook books when researching a recipe. In Larousse Gastronomique, one of the authorities on classic French cuisine, I counted 36 different variations on the soufflé including the addition of  puréed brains. Really!

Soufflés are a delicate matter. To achieve a light and airy product, concentration and timing are essential. I consider this a form of meditation as your mind cannot wander and must stay focused on the tasks on hand. The key is mis en place or having all the ingredients prepped and ready to go.

My mom, the cooking adventuress, made us soufflés after she discovered Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. I’m sure she also referred to the copy I now have of Gastronomique, given to her by my babysitter Claudia, in 1966. The two of them loved experimenting and I was an eager guinea pig. The soufflé soon turned into a family favorite, my mom adding spinach or ham or whatever leftovers she had in the refrigerator. She called it “Sunday night surprise.”

In France, I learned the technique rather than the recipe of the soufflé. It begins with a basic bechamel sauce of just butter, flour and milk plus the seasonings. I use this foundational sauce as a springboard for many dishes including gratins, lasagna, mac and cheese and chicken pot pie. Once you master this simple technique, you can venture into all sorts of recipes you might have thought were too difficult to attempt.

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My mom’s 6 ounce soufflé dishes. Very vintage and very beautiful. They are buttered and breadcrumbed in preparation for the egg mixture.

So, why don’t we eat soufflé any more? I think most people are afraid of them! I am here to calm your fears. All it takes is confidence!

This menu was designed as a Mother’s Day Brunch, with the cheese soufflé as the super star. I paired it with watercress and parsley for the greens, papaya and raspberries, a rhubarb tea bread and a glass of Rosé wine. A little bit of everything good and healthy too.

I celebrate you Mom for giving me the gift of cooking, now for you!
Happy Mother’s Day!

French Cheese Soufflé
Butter and dust with bread crumbs a 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish. Or, butter and crumb 6-8 (depending on the size) small souffle dishes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
This recipe makes one large 1 1/2 quart soufflé or approximately eight 6 or 8 ounce soufflé dishes.

Bechamel Sauce
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
pinch of ground nutmeg

4 egg yolks
2/3 cup grated Gruyère cheese

2 Tablespoons minced parsley
1 Teaspoon minced chives
1/2 Teaspoon minced chervil or marjoram

6 egg whites at room temperature

Combine the milk, bay leaf, mustard, pepper and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat off to let the flavors infuse into the milk. While still hot, strain the milk into a measuring cup to make it easier to add to the bechamel base.

Melt the butter in a saucepan until frothy then stir in the flour. Stir quickly with a whisk to create a smooth roux with no lumps. Cook for a few minutes to cook out the flour taste. Slowly whisk in the hot milk, stirring constantly so no lumps will form. Continue to cook on medium low until thick and smooth. Stir in the nutmeg. Taste for salt and add more if you like. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolks. Gently stir in the cheese. Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper until ready to use. Remember to season the bechamel well as the egg whites will dilute the flavor.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. In France, I was taught to hold the bowl of whipped egg whites over your head. If they didn’t spill out, they were ready.

Pour half of the bechamel into the egg whites and fold together the two mixtures. Add the rest of the egg whites and all of the minced herbs. Fold with care to keep the mixture light and fluffy. Do not over mix. All of the egg whites do not have to be completely incorporated.

Immediately pour into the prepared dishes and place in the hot oven. The small ramekins took about 12 minutes and the medium size, about 15 minutes. The 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish will take about 20-25 minutes. I look for a brown top. You want a creamy center so try not to over cook.

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Just out of the oven. Poof!

Serve immediately as the soufflé will start falling the minute it hits the cool air. This is fine. It still tastes delicious. I love this combination of cheese and minced herbs. It is delicate and flavorful and so French!

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Cheers!

“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.”
― Auguste Escoffier

Ciao for now,

Love, Mary

Rhubarb Marries Meringue

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Lately I’ve been feeling disenchanted with the world. About the only thing I find enchanting is my lovely, colorful garden. This is just a phase I’m going through. We all have them.

To console myself, instead of watching evening tv, I crawled into bed with food. Figuratively, not literally!  I perused my cookbook shelves and started pulling notebooks and recipe books that spoke to me. I have a few treasured and tattered notebooks that contain my private collection of dessert recipes from my days as a pastry chef . I’ve relied on the basics from these books but really haven’t delved into the more serious desserts that lined my pastry cases. Suddenly, my enchantment with life was restored. Flashbacks of colorful fruit desserts filled my head and my creativity shifted into fifth gear.

A recipe for almond meringue caught my eye. “How could I make this special and new?” I asked myself. Rhubarb! And it was all over. I quickly jotted down my ideas and slept well, excited to start cooking and already tasting the combination I dreamed up.

Rhubarb is one of those indescribable flavors that if you love it, you really love it and count the days until it is in season. Rhubarb pie – who doesn’t love it?  Every year I wait for spring rhubarb and try all sorts of new recipes using this vegetable. Yes, it is technically a vegetable. Rhubarb is just beginning to make its appearance in southern California. My friend Di lives in Iowa and told me last week how she and her sister planned to pick the rhubarb in their backyard that grows like crazy and make strawberry rhubarb jam. I was envious. I became so whinny about her stash of rhubarb, she even offered to ship me some!

My vision for a cake with rhubarb turned out perfectly, in beauty and in bite. I assembled it yesterday afternoon, took photos and then my mom and I dug in, anxious to taste it, as our dinner cooked. “Dessert first?” We asked each other. We both nodded and could not put our forks down. And yes, we did have another piece each after dinner!

As beautiful as it is, because it is a meringue, has a short shelf life and when cut, does not hold its shape for long. Use a serrated knife for best results. There are just two steps to the recipe and each can be made a day ahead. The rhubarb compote will last for 7-10 days in the frig and once the meringues are baked, you can leave them in the oven (oven turned off) overnight so they won’t collect moisture and will stay dry.
This recipe is one of the very best, I think, I have ever created. I hope you make it and enjoy it as much!

Almond Meringue Cake with Rhubarb Compote

Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
Line two sheet trays with parchment paper. Place an 8” cake pan bottom on the paper and draw a circle for your template. Repeat two more times. You will need three circles for the three layers of meringue. Turn the paper over so you can see the outline but the meringue will not absorb the ink or pencil!

3/4 cup sugar, 150 grams, split in half.
1 1/2 cups ground almonds or almond meal, 100 grams
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
4 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Measure half the sugar, the almond meal and cornstarch together. Set aside.
Beat egg whites until foamy and starting to hold together. Slowly add the remaining half the sugar – 75 grams. Beat until glossy about 5 minutes total time.
Fold in remaining sugar/almond mixture.
Fold in almond extract.
Place the meringue into a 14-16” pastry bag, fitted with a plain tip and starting on the outside line, pipe the meringue, working your way inward until the circle is all meringue. Repeat with the other two circles.

I had a little bit of meringue left over so made these little buttons to use as added decorations.

Bake 225 degrees for about one hour or until very dry. Turn the oven off and let your meringues sit there until you are ready to use them.


Rhubarb Compote
Makes about 3 cups of rhubarb

1 Cup sugar
1/4 cup water
6 cups rhubarb cut into 1” pieces
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Combine sugar and water in saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add rhubarb and lemon juice.
Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. The rhubarb will break down. This is the reason I cut it into such large pieces.
Cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
This is a slightly less sweet recipe than I would normally make because it is being used as part of a meringue recipe, which is already very sweet! It is delicious and simple!


1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Whip cream until soft peaks form. Place whipped cream in a pastry bag, ready to pipe.
2 boxes fresh raspberries

To assemble:
Place one meringue round on a cake plate or cardboard cake round. Spread about 1 cup of the rhubarb compote evenly on top of the meringue.

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The first layer. Love the ruby color!

Pipe a whipped cream border around the edge of the cake, then fill in the middle. You can go lightly on the cream in the middle. The whipped cream adds a creaminess but you don’t want the cake to be mostly cream!
Sprinkle on about 3/4 of the box of raspberries. I made sure some of the raspberries stuck out of the sides for the glamour effect.
Repeat with another meringue, rhubarb compote, cream and raspberries.
Place the last layer on top and spread with remaining rhubarb. Sprinkle the remaining raspberries on top and voila!
This would be delicious served with chilled Prosecco.

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”
Julia Child

Ciao for now!

Mary

 

A Kitchen’s Best Friend

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How beautiful and trendy! A piece of artwork for your kitchen.

The other day as I was whipping up a lemon chiffon cake in my Kitchen Aid, I felt this rush of love and adoration for this appliance that has been the stronghold of my various kitchens for over 37 years. I know it sounds crazy to be in love with a kitchen appliance but really, it’s about the stories it harbors. The Kitchen Aid has assisted me in making pasta, grinding meat, kneading dough along with basic mixing for cookies. This work horse deserves a tribute.

It’s a family love affair. My mom purchased her first Kitchen Aid in the early 60’s after being enticed by the ads in her cooking magazines. An avid cook with a fetish for cooking gadgets, the latest avocado green Kitchen Aid soon graced her kitchen counter, matching the decor of bold blossoms of orange, yellow and green wall paper that peppered her kitchen. Mom wasn’t the only one who embraced this new time-saving appliance. I latched onto it too when my teenage sweet tooth took over and chocolate whipped cream-stuffed angel food cake and pineapple upside down cake became my specialties.

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This is what my mom’s Kitchen Aid looked like circa 1964.

I received my first, very own Kitchen Aid at the ago of 23, as a gift from my grandmother who was proud of my culinary accomplishments from La Varenne cooking school. So this tribute is to you too, Grammy, a fine cook and wonderful Bohemian pastry maker who influenced my cooking style from early on.

As a pastry chef, my Hobart, made by Kitchen Aid, was my best friend, cranking out Italian meringue by the gallon, kneading pounds of brioche and mixing tart dough for the next day’s pastries. It was the boss of the kitchen.

 

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A baker’s must-have appliance.

Because I have a curious nature, I researched a bit more about this amazing appliance to see just exactly how it came to be. Here’s what I discovered.
The first mixer was produced in 1919 by the Hobart Corporation and was called “the Hub.” It was designed by Herbert Johnston after observing workers making dough by hand and thinking there must be an easier way. The Kitchen Aid continued to evolve, getting exposure in Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar. It was in vogue to own one of these time-saving machines. In 1955, five vibrant colors were introduced: Island Green, Petal Pink, Sunny Yellow, Antique Copper and Satin Chrome. Now you really wanted to invite the ladies over to see your kitchen! Cooking became a lot more fun!

 

Vintage Kitchen Aids

Talk about an appliance that transcends time. The style has changed very little and it has continued to be center stage for the home cook as well as the professional. I decided to write about this fabulous appliance because I have recently renewed my relationship with it. It sat in a cabinet with little use for years. Now that I have moved it to my counter, I am enjoying its power a couple of times a week. My Kitchen Aid inspires me to want to test just one more recipe and I’m having a lot more fun in my own kitchen!

Do you have a favorite memory of something you created when your Kitchen Aid first joined your kitchen? Please share!

Stay tuned next week for a recipe for Almond Meringue Rhubarb Cake. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Click here to watch a great video on the history of the Kitchen Aid.

“You may feel that you have eaten too much…But this pastry is like
feathers – it is like snow. It is in fact good for you, a digestive!”
― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Ciao for now,

Mary

Honestly Good Food

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Turkey finalLooks good, doesn’t it? Good enough to eat but it’s for your dog!

Last month I received a copy of “Dog Obsessed,” written by Lucy Postins, founder of the dog food empire, The Honest Kitchen. Full of pet health information and funny stories all of us dog-crazed people can relate to, I could hardly put it down. Inserted into each chapter are her recipes using The Honest Kitchen’s dehydrated diets as a base for a delicious home-cooked meal for your dog.

Inspired, I took Lucy’s basic ideas and made up my own recipes for my dog Sparky. For giggles, I included a surprise in the center of each loaf for boosted nutritional value and eye appeal. You can feel good about every ingredient in these recipes and they are so simple to make. Each loaf makes about 2 1/2 pounds of food and is a complete and balanced meal. Have fun and treat your dog to a special dinner today!
Turkey prep
Turkey Pot Pie
Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1 Cup The Honest Kitchen Keen (turkey and oats)
1 Cup warm water
2 eggs
1 pound plain ground turkey meat
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup diced carrots plus 2 Tbls.
Mix together the Keen and warm water.
Stir in the 2 eggs. Mix well.
Stir in the turkey meat.
Add half the mixture to the loaf pan. Sprinkle a layer of carrots, then peas. Spoon the remaining meat mixture over all and pat down slightly. Sprinkle the 2 Tablespoons of carrots on top.
Bake for 45 minutes or until juices run clear.
Serve immediately or let cool, then cut into slices. The slice will hold together better when cool.
Watch your dog drool as you serve him!

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Blue Plate Salmon Special
Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1 Cup The Honest Kitchen Brave grain-free wild caught fish diet
1 Cup warm water
2 eggs
2 13 oz. cans salmon. I used Rawz canned dog food Salmon because it is a great company with reputable sourcing.
The Honest Kitchen Fish Proper Toppers
Fish prep
Mix together the Brave and warm water.
Stir in the eggs. Mix well.
Add one of the cans of salmon to the mixture and stir well.
Pour half the fish into the loaf pan.
Spoon the other can of salmon into the pan and spread evenly.
Add the rest of the fish mixture.
Sprinkle the Fish Proper Toppers on top – like croutons!
Bake for 45 minutes.
The fish aroma will fill your house for a while but your dog will appreciate it!

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My forever friend Sparky.

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera

Ciao for now,
Mary

Sunday Breakfast Brioche

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Brioche. It sounds so intimidating. A rich, buttery, egg bread with so many possibilities for creativity. I was feeling ready for a challenge and scoured my cookbook collection comparing recipes and looking for ease of preparation. Finally I settled on one from my alma mater, La Varenne. The recipe itself is not difficult although it is a yeast dough so does require some time. After the initial mixing, a nap overnight in the refrigerator will awaken it refreshed and ready to mold into all kinds of shapes. This is the fun part.

In Paris, I learned how to make brioche dough by hand, slapping it on a cold marble surface as I added the butter, piece by piece. This traditional method is an art in itself. This time I let the Kitchen Aid do the work. It huffed and puffed as I added the butter, until I thought it would faint with exhaustion. “Just three more pats of butter,” I whispered with encouragement. The poor thing was warm after the workout and I promised her a long rest in-between the next recipe.


Three different breads were the results of my efforts. Because I am still craving oranges, they all have an orange twist. The first recipe is a take off on monkey bread, one of my favorite childhood breakfast breads. I added candied orange peel (from King Arthur) to the dough, then rolled pieces of dough into small balls, dipped them in melted butter, then into an orange zest and sugar combination. The balls were placed in a deep dish pie pan, left to rise, then baked. Bellissimo!


Next I made a braided loaf and sprinkled the orange sugar on the rolled out dough before I made the braids. Again, delicious and beautiful. While baking, the sugar peeked out from the dough causing a speckled effect. It slices very nicely.


The last recipe, and the simplest, was my favorite. I had some of the orange peel dough leftover and made rolls. Each dough piece was weighed, then rolled into a ball and placed in a well-buttered muffin tin. After they had risen, I egg glazed each roll and sprinkled them with Sparkling White Sugar (again from King Arthur). The texture of this bread is soft and airy, buttery and irresistible.

The best part about this recipe is that you are free to unleash your creative genius in any way you like. Shape a bunny or an Easter egg. Add cinnamon or lavender. Just remember to let the fine texture and flavor of the bread speak for itself so go lightly with the added flavors.

Brioche
2 Tablespoons luke warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 Tablespoon dry yeast
3 Tablespoons sugar
4 Cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
8 eggs – beaten lightly
12 oz. unsalted butter, ( 3 sticks) softened and cut into 1/2” cubes NOTE: Please use a good quality European style butter like Plugra, President or Kerry Gold. Because this is a butter bread, it really does make a difference! Also there is a lot of water in inexpensive butter and this can change the dynamics of the recipe.

Put water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top. Let set for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. It should look puffy and bubbly. I usually add a little of the sugar to this mixture to feed it, just to make sure my yeast is active.

Combine remaining sugar, flour and salt in a Kitchen Aid mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Add risen yeast and eggs to mixer. Beat dough until all ingredients are well combined and the mixture is sticky.

Add pieces of butter (I smash the pieces between my thumb and finger to flatten) one by one, incorporating each piece before the next is added. This is the most time-consuming part of the recipe! Do not leave your Kitchen Aid as mine wanted to jump off the counter near the end because it was working so hard.

When all the butter is incorporated, you will have a beautiful shiny mass. Form a ball and place this in a buttered bowl. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down, replace with the damp towel and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, your dough is ready to play with!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shape dough as desired, place in well-buttered muffin tins or molds and let rise until doubled. Give each piece a light egg wash and bake. The small rolls (I weighed each at about 1.5 ounces) only took about 12-15 minutes and the braid took about 25 minutes. Watch carefully and look for a beautifully browned crust.

These are best eaten warm but keep very well and even freeze well.

The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight…

[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Ciao for now,

Mary

Orange Blossom Special

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The life in my backyard is so breathtakingly alive right now. I am especially drawn to my two 60-year-old orange trees who greet me everyday with bursts of intensely perfumed orange blossoms that permeate my backyard. So heady is this fragrance, I find myself making excuses to stay home, just to linger in my garden. This heavenly smell is reminiscent of springtime in my home town of Riverside, California, where, in my earlier days, the orange trees possibly outnumbered the residents!


Not to neglect the brilliant oranges that are a part of this scene, they too deserve attention. It’s as if they are asking, “ So, what will you create with us today?” As much as I love eating them ripe off the tree, I came up with this easy recipe which also uses the prolific Swiss chard making a strong appearance in my garden right now. The flavors interact perfectly – some tang, some crunch, some sweetness. It’s colorful and delicious. I love it as a side dish or make it a main by tossing in some cannellini beans for vegetarian or sweet chicken sausage slices for a meatier meal.

Orange Blossom Special
5-6 cupfuls of sliced Swiss chard, stems removed and cut into pieces separately
1 large shallot, sliced into rings
2 large, fresh oranges, cut into 1” cubes
3 or more Tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

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Saute the chard stems in 1 Tablespoon olive oil until tender, about 10 minutes. Salt to taste.
In a small pan, saute the shallot in 1 Tablespoon olive oil until deep brown and almost crispy.
Add the sliced chard to the chard stems and cook on medium heat, tossing frequently until just beginning to wilt. Do not overcook or it will lose its beautiful green color. Salt and pepper to taste.
Toss in the shallots and oranges.
Sprinkle in the pistachios.

This is especially good when drizzled with Orange or Mandarin Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Add a splash of Fig Balsamic Vinegar to take it over the edge.

IMG_4922Voila! Tasty and nutritious!

“Did you ever sleep in a field of orange-trees in bloom? The air which one inhales deliciously is a quintessence of perfumes. This powerful and sweet smell, as savoury as a sweetmeat, seems to penetrate one, to impregnate, to intoxicate, to induce languor, to bring about a dreamy and somnolent torpor. It is like opium prepared by fairy hands and not by chemists.”
― Guy de Maupassant, 88 Short Stories

My feelings exactly! Take deep breaths and drink in the beauty of Spring!

P.S. I named this story Orange Blossom Special after the bluegrass song that stole my heart when I lived in Southern Illinois. Here is a fun rendition of the “Fiddle Player’s National Anthem.”

Orange Blossom Special

Ciao for now,
Mary

It’s Showtime!

Francesca

This week only! Buds everywhere! My garden has stated that dormancy and hibernation are over and it’s time to create. Create leaves and buds that will burst forth into fruit and flowers. It’s such a delicate time of year. The crossover, so to speak, of stillness and the conservation of energy, to the release, in tiny increments of stored up power. The curtains are going up and it’s showtime.

There is one drama queen in my yard that loves to act up and challenge me. She is the fuyu persimmon tree I named Francesca. I planted her last May. As much as I talked with her, fertilized and watered her, she completely ignored me. Like she couldn’t care less and wanted to die. No new growth, just sticks for arms. She seemed to glare at me, holding her ground and not budging. She stood there steadfast, pouting for almost a year. I was ready to replace her with an understudy, a pretty plum tree. Last weekend while on my garden rounds, lo and behold, she finally decided to make an appearance and deliver green buds! Was it all the rain we received this winter or did her neighbor, Reed, the avocado tree, give her a pep talk? “Hey girl – You’re late for curtain call!” Whatever the reason, I am grateful she has finally decided to join the family.

Francesca 2

Francesca’s Debut!

Reed

Reed, my avocado is loaded with buds. I’m dreaming of a bumper crop!

Besides the visual, there’s the sensory expression of spring. The sweet scent of orange blossoms drifts in the air, five different songbirds serenade me as the mourning doves chime in with their rythmic beat of coo coo, coo coo, coo coo. Hummingbirds shower in the water spewing from my sprinklers and bees pollinate everything they can find. It’s my own live theater production that keeps evolving before my very eyes. Everyday a new song, a new bloom, a new me reacting to the show. And so life unravels one day at a time….

hummer.jpg

Look carefully for the hummingbird relaxing in the pomegranate tree.

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Ciao for now!

Mary