Some might consider clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-tee) just a lazy cook’s way to pie or cake, but its truly luscious comfort food complete with a French pedigree. Born in Limousin, in southern central France, a couple of centuries ago to showcase its fresh cherries. Very likely, the creation of a hurried & harried home cook with a glut of cherries to use up. Traditionally made with unpitted black or tart cherries. The pits supposedly added an almond flavor when baked.
The name clafoutis comes from the verb ‘clafir’, a rustic old word that means ‘to fill’ because after you arrange the fruit on a buttered baking dish, you fill the pan with eggy batter. It bakes into a light, custardy confection with a consistency somewhere between pudding, pancake and soufflé.
Clafoutis is a dessert you need in your life. It is neither difficult nor time consuming and it requires few ingredients.
The first time Brion & I ever tasted clafoutis was actually in France in 2001. Strangely enough, I’ve never got around to making it even though we had enjoyed it.
By using one simple batter recipe, you can make a variety of clafoutis by changing up the fruit and flavorings you use. Of course, there are some who would say that a clafoutis made with any fruit other than cherries would be properly called a ‘flaugnarde’, but what’s in a name when it comes to comfort food!
Place all batter ingredients into a blender. Blend until well combined.
Butter a large pie dish & sprinkle the 1 Tbsp sugar evenly over the butter. Pour the batter into the dish, then sprinkle the saskatoon berries evenly throughout the mixture. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the surface of the clafoutis & place in the oven.
Bake until the clafoutis is puffy & nicely browned on top, about 35-40 minutes. To check if its done, remove it from the oven & gently giggle the pan. It should shake softly, but not look overly liquid. You can also test with a knife tip to ensure its set.
Dust with powdered sugar if you wish & serve immediately.
Cream puffs start with choux pastry, a heady mixture of butter, milk, water, eggs & flour. When you combine these ingredients, they become so dense and sticky that it seems impossible they’ll come together as soft, puffy, light, tender. Heat is what initiates the expansion of the dense paste. Steam from the milk and water expands the pastry’s edges, puffing up its capacity until the oven heat provides just enough crispness and structure to hold the puffs’ boundaries. A cream puff expands so dramatically in the oven that it creates a cavern inside to hold any number of things—whipped cream, pastry cream, ice cream or savory fillings.
Cream puff pastry (or choux pastry) is the base for profiteroles (smaller puffs filled with ice cream), éclairs (elongated puffs filled with pastry cream and glazed), croquembouche (a tower of cream puffs held together and drizzled with caramel) and savory appetizer puffs called gougeres with cheese and herbs.
Craquelin (pronounced kra-ke-lan) is a thin biscuit layer that can be added over choux pastries before baking them. It is used to create a crackly appearance, crunchy texture and a buttery sweet taste as well as helping the choux pastry bake evenly to form hollow rounds. This topping reminded me of a similar cookie-like topping used on Mexican sweet bread called ‘conchas’. It certainly dresses up ordinary cream puffs.
Mandarin Orange Cream Puffs w/ Craquelin Topping
Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
In a food processor, process sugar & butter pieces until it forms large crumbs. Add flour, salt & vanilla; process until a dough forms. Bring the dough together to form a disk.
Roll the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper until 1/16-inch thickness. Place covered in the freezer for at least an hour then cut the dough into (18) 2-inch circles & keep circles in the freezer until ready to use.
In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch until it turns pale yellow. In a saucepan, combine milk & orange zest; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, slowly add the egg mixture a little at a time, whisking well until fully incorporated.
Return mixture to heat & keep whisking over medium heat until it thickens. Stir in orange juice. Transfer to a bowl & cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream. When it comes to room temperature, refrigerate.
When cooled & you are ready to use the pastry cream, whisk with an electric mixer for 15-20 seconds to a smooth texture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a saucepan, combine milk, water, butter & salt; bring to boiling. Add flour, all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook & stir until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat & add eggs & egg white, one at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.
Place dough in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe (18) 1 1/2-inch circles. Cover each with a frozen craquelin round circle.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden & firm. Transfer to a wire rack & allow to cool.
Carefully slice puffs. Fill a pastry bag with mandarin orange pastry cream & gently fill each puff. Place on serving platter & sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.
I have always favored using ‘conchiglioni’ pasta, the name derives from the Italian word meaning ‘seashells’. Their shape, size and consistency are the perfect vessel for bold, rich fillings and flavorful sauces. Baked pastas, or ‘pastas al forno’ as they are called in Italy, date back to the Renaissance when they were being served at the banquets of nobles.
Over the years, I have stuffed jumbo pasta shells with just about every imaginable filling I could conjure up. To say the least, I love this kind of meal.
Since we are just past ‘turkey season’ and if you are someone who enjoys that festive meal … here’s a new spin on it. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and gravy all tucked into some pasta shells.
Without a doubt, these shells were even better than I had expected and this recipe made enough that I froze some for another meal. What’s not to like about that?
Turkey Stuffed Pasta Shells
Cook pasta shells according to package directions for al dente. Drain & set aside.
In a large saucepan, scramble-fry ground turkey with spices until no longer pink.
In a large bowl, combine mozzarella cheese, turkey, stuffing & green onions. In a small bowl, Stir sweet potatoes with chili powder.
Fill each pasta shell with 2 Tbsp stuffing mixture & 2 tsp sweet potato mixture. Combine 1 cup of gravy with any remaining filling & spread on the bottom of a 13" x 9" baking dish. Place filled shells overtop, drizzle with remaining gravy & sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake, covered for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Serve with cranberry sauce if you wish.
Browning, bruised and overlooked, you can’t help but feel bad for the half dozen persimmons nestled on the grocery shelf waiting to be selected. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is no end to the ways persimmons can be used.
In this recipe, I used some Chinese five-spice to give the persimmons a spicy upgrade. With the unique flavor profile of this interesting spice, it often pulls double duty in savory and sweet dishes.
It seems that the exact origin of five-spice powder is unknown but there is some speculation that the blend was created in traditional Chinese medicine. A very unique spice blend that represents a wide range of flavors from sweet, salty and bitter to pungent and sour. Rumor has it that the Chinese were trying to create a ‘miracle powder’ that was representative of all the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Then again, its possible that a cook accidentally stumbled upon this particular combination of spices and realized its power to improve on a bland dish. In any case, it is very versatile and can be used not only in cooking but also adds a unique flavor to baked goods.
Many recipes for five-spice powder exist but there is no one traditional recipe. Often the ingredients and amounts can vary from region to region and are different depending on the household and individual tastes. The original blend contained star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, cinnamon and cloves. A staple in Chinese cuisine but has also found its way into other international cuisines such as Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.
Spiced Persimmon Tarte Tatin
Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay puff pastry on a piece of parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until needed.
In a skillet, melt butter & sprinkle sugar evenly over it. Add peeled, sliced persimmons & sauté until liquid is bubbling & lightly golden. Reduce heat & continue cooking until persimmons are tender. If you wish, thicken any juices with the cornstarch. Remove from heat & divide evenly into 6 ramekin dishes. Sprinkle persimmons evenly with five-spice & salt.
Cut 6 rounds from chilled puff pastry larger than the tops of the ramekin dishes. Place a pastry round over each dish of persimmons tucking edges down inside.
Bake until pastry is golden & cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool then run a knife around edge of ramekin dish. Carefully but quickly invert onto a serving plate.
December 25th is not only Christmas Day, but it holds an extra special meaning for our family. It is my sister Rita’s birth date. When we were growing up, being able to enjoy all the great things that come with the Christmas meal as well as birthday cake …. could it get better than that!!
Although your family’s Christmas traditions may vary depending on the culture you were raised in, we like to think food is a language that needs no translation. I believe that many of our dishes are from an assortment of different cultures mixed into one recipe. Such is the case of our turkey dinner this year. I’ve incorporated a Moroccan inspired fruit stuffing along with our traditional savory one.
In view of the ongoing pandemic, hopefully caution will be taken in the holiday events your involved in. The best gift you can give this Christmas is not infecting others with Covid-19.
As much as I like certain aspects of the Christmas season, I find it becomes a little overwhelming. It seems a massive wave of Christmas capitalism takes over every aspect of one’s life from the end of October to January. I like to call it a form of OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder.
I was raised on a farm in southern Alberta at a time when Christmas celebrations were focused around our family blessings and not how many blow-up Santa Clauses or realistic sleighs we set up on our front lawns.
It would almost seem more importance is being given to getting more likes on Facebook & Instagram than it is carrying on a tradition based on family.
This year will not be perfect, it never is, and the holidays are a hard enough time for many, regardless of pandemics and catastrophic weather. I hope there will still be a little magic for everyone, however you spend the holidays.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY RITA!
WE LOVE YOU VERY MUCH & ARE SHARING YOUR DAY IN OUR THOUGHTS
Turkey Breast w/ Fruity Savory Stuffing
In a small bowl, combine dates, apricots, raisins, apple & orange juice & zest; season with spices & mix well. Set aside to marinate.
In a saucepan, sauté onion, celery, garlic, mushrooms & seasonings in margarine. Remove from heat.
Place vegetable/seasoning mixture in a large bowl & combine with dry bread cubes & broth, adding only enough broth to make proper stuffing consistency. Set aside.
Lay turkey breast on a clean work surface so that it lies open & flat. Cover with plastic wrap, then pound lightly with a meat mallet to flatten into an even thickness all over. Discard plastic wrap.
On one half of the turkey breast spread a thick layer of the savory stuffing then top it with the fruit stuffing. Fold the adjoining half of the turkey breast over all. Fasten with metal skewers if you wish to help to keep stuffing enclosed.
Place a wire rack in a roasting pan & lay stuffed turkey roast on it. Brush herb butter over turkey breast. Roast uncovered, until turkey reaches an internal temperature of 180 F. about 2 hours. Cover loosely with foil if top browns too quickly.
Place any extra savory stuffing in a buttered casserole & bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is lightly toasted.
Remove turkey breast from oven, tent with foil & allow to rest for about 5-10 minutes. Make sure to remove all toothpicks and/or skewers before slicing to serve.
- You will notice the recipe for the savory stuffing is well more than what is needed to stuff the turkey breast. For me personally, the stuffing is the most important part of the whole meal so I made sure there would be lots.
- Don't hesitate to half the recipe if you feel its more than what you need.
Not whole muffins, just the tops. The idea was first conceptualized by Elaine Benes, a fictional character on the American television sitcom Seinfeld, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I was not a Seinfeld fan and rarely even watched the show but the series lasted for nine years so obviously many did. It centered around four single friends dealing with the absurdities of everyday life in New York City, USA. Something as simple as soup or muffins became the focal point of the show but with a unique twist that only the actors on the show could make funny and memorable.
In a 1997 episode, The Muffin Tops, Elaine helps her old boss open his own business where they only sell the tops of muffins. ‘It’s the best part (nobody likes the stumps), it’s crunchy, it’s where the muffin breaks free of the pan and sort of does its own thing’.
Nowadays we have specific baking pans made just for making muffin tops and I think most food stores sell them. Muffins are an item I’ve certainly made my fair share of over the years in the food industry. But I have to say, I love the whole thing, especially if its soft and cakey.
This time of year is usually filled with pumpkin and sweet potato dishes and treats. These muffin tops are quite special with a slight sweet potato flavor packed with plenty of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and an added bonus of some pepita seeds.
Sweet Potato Muffin Tops
In a small bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon & salt. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add pepita seeds, mix & set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a MUFFIN TOP PAN or line with paper cups. (This recipe makes 10 muffin tops the size shown in the blog picture). Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt & spices. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the brown sugar & eggs together; add sweet potatoes, oil, milk & orange zest (or vanilla) & whisk again. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients & stir until JUST combined. Do not overmix the batter.
Scoop batter into muffin top pan; Sprinkle with streusel topping.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.
It’s become that time of year. Our warm summer nights have slowly given way to crisp air. Layers have started to enter our daily fashion. Food preparation starts to gravitate towards warmth and comfort food. Pears of all shapes and colors, are waiting for us to pull out our oven mitts and get cooking. And, like so many fruits, there is the right variety for every job.
Here, sweet cinnamon bread meets juicy pears and the savory bite of Gruyere cheese. You want a pear variety that will hold its shape and won’t exude too much moisture as the bread pudding bakes, such as Anjou.
The nutty flavor of Gruyere compliments the pears and the cinnamon bread base. Its all bathed in a milk and egg mixture and left to sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning, simply bake and enjoy with the addition of something salty like you guessed it …. bacon!!
In 2015, ‘The Taste of a Memory’, a memorabilia/cookbook I wrote as a tribute to my wonderful parents, was published. It contained a compilation of stories, articles, recipes and reflections that evoke an intimate memory, a special time period and fond emotion brought about by the aroma and taste of food. Writing them down not only put them in print but allowed me to take a mental journey back to a gentler time.
This bread pudding recipe comes out of the low calorie section of that book. Who says bread pudding can’t be diet food !!
Pear & Gruyere Bread Pudding
Cinnamon Swirl Bread
In a small bowl, whisk together yeast, 1 tsp sugar & lukewarm water. Set aside until mixture begins to form a frothy foam, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, dry milk powder & salt. Add yeast mixture, melted butter, vanilla, raisins (if using) & beaten egg. Combine until dough comes together in a ball & no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. In a small dish combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1 Tbsp cinnamon.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough into a 9 x 24-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with egg wash mixture & sprinkle with cinnamon /sugar mixture. Starting with a short end, roll the dough into a tight log & place seam-side down into greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
Allow to rise, covered, for 40-60 minutes until loaf has crested 1/2-inch over the rim of the pan. Preheat oven to 350 F. while the bread is rising. Brush the loaf with egg wash & bake for 45-60 minutes, until golden. Cool the loaf in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
In a large bowl, combine pears, butter & 1 Tbsp sugar; toss gently. Butter a 9 x 9-inch glass baking dish & arrange half of the bread in it. Spoon pear mixture evenly over bread & top with shredded cheese. Arrange remaining bread over cheese.
In a bowl, whisk together remaining 5 Tbsp sugar, milk, egg substitute & cinnamon. Pour milk mixture over bread pudding, pressing down lightly to submerge. Cover & chill 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Uncover, sprinkle with 1 Tbsp sugar evenly over pudding. Bake for 55 minutes or until golden & set. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.
- If you are making the cinnamon swirl bread, it helps to do this the day before making the bread pudding.
- Alternately you could make your life easier & just purchase the cinnamon loaf at a good bakery.
Though they come in all shapes and sizes, dumplings are a near-universal culinary constant as almost every culture has one. So naturally, dumpling recipes are incredibly versatile, coming with a wide array of fillings, wrappers, shapes and sizes. Eaten as an appetizer, dessert, side dish or for the main meal, they might just be the ultimate comfort food.
Chicken and shrimp go together surprisingly well, and this dish is no exception. In March of this year (2021), I posted a blog about Russian Pelmeni. Since then, Brion & I have had ‘pelmeni’ numerous times in which I’ve experimented with various fillings. In case you’re not familiar with these dumplings, traditional Russian pelmeni consist of a filling wrapped in thin, unleavened dough. The word “pelmeni” describes the ear-shaped appearance of these dumplings.
When I made them for the March blog, I used a different technique for preparing them. Instead of making them into the traditional ear shape, I rolled the dough out into a large rectangle. I then spread the raw meat filling over it very thinly and rolled it up in a jelly roll fashion. After slicing the roll into 2-inch pieces, they were steam cooked in broth in a skillet. It’s a quick and easy take on authentic pelmeni.
Since Brion & I eat a lot of chicken and shrimp, I could see no reason to ‘develop’ a new version with an almost oriental twist on it.
Shrimp & Chicken Pelmeni
Broth for Steaming Pelmeni
Broth for Steaming Pelmeni
In a bowl, combine all dough ingredients & knead until a smooth dough ball forms, about 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap & set aside to rest until your filling is prepared.
Chop mushrooms & mince garlic. In a skillet, heat butter & add garlic. When aromatic & light golden, add mushrooms & a light sprinkle of salt. Cook for about 2 minutes, until fragrant, soft & roughly a third of the original volume. Set aside in a bowl to cool.
Chop shrimp into pieces the size of large peas. Add to the mushrooms with the chicken, green onion, water chestnuts & ginger. Combine with a fork.
Stir together salt & white pepper, sugar, soy sauce & water. Pour over the filling; stir to mix & firm up. Cover & set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
Once dough has rested, transfer to a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a large, THIN rectangle. Spread filling over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch at the far side of the dough.
Tightly roll dough up, starting from the wider side, forming a log. Put seam side down to seal the edges. Seal ends of the dough as well. Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough log into 2-inch sections.
In a large skillet that will accommodate all pelmeni, heat oil & cook onion until translucent. Add garlic & continue cooking until fragrant. Add grated carrot; cook about 1-2 minutes more.
Place pelmeni rolls on top of veggies, add vegetable broth, salt & pepper. Cover with a lid & simmer for 30 minutes on a low heat. Check pelmeni from time to time, to make sure there is still some broth in the skillet. Add more broth if it evaporates too fast. Garnish with extra sliced green onions if desired. Serve.
- A nice condiment for these dumplings would be a sweet chili sauce.