Category Archives: Desserts

in the red {les culinettes}

After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.

I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later.

Sarah had a couple visitors in town from Chicago who were couch-surfing for the weekend, so she asked if she could bring them. Of course with that much food, it was almost a relief to have extra mouths to help us eat it. I was seated next to Romain, a visitor from Berlin who is spending a few months in Chicago. We chatted about European vs. American schools, travel, and how cheap cities facilitate art and musical creativity and entrepreneurship (he’s originally from an industrial town that also has suffered from lost jobs and subsequently abandoned areas of town). It’s always interesting to see Detroit through a first-time visitor’s eyes, especially one from another country; the point of view around here can verge on myopic (tending to eternal pessimism on the one side and relentless boosterism on the other) and it’s great to get some perspective.

Dessert was served with some exciting news from one of the guests, which I won’t divulge here but which had us all toasting and cheering. Ending the evening on that high note, we bundled up and headed to our cars with the warm glow of contentment.

If you can’t wait for tart cherry season (and who could blame you), try to hunt down some frozen tart cherries for this. You could use sweet cherries, but I’ve always found them rather insipid for cooking, and the tartness of the sour cherries pairs so well with the buttermilk. I used this ice cream recipe from Smitten Kitchen via Claudia Fleming’s book The Last Course, using 6 egg yolks and adding about a half teaspoon salt, and a recipe for shortcake biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

Tart Cherry Sauce for Ice Cream
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1 lb pitted tart cherries and their juice (fresh or frozen and thawed)
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch of cinnamon

If using fresh cherries, place them in a bowl with the sugar, mash lightly with a fork, and allow to macerate 30 minutes or so, until they begin to release their juices.

Place cherries, sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Simmer gently until the cherries begin to break down and the liquid becomes slightly syrupy, about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and add a pinch of cinnamon to taste.

Serve warm over buttermilk ice cream and shortcakes.

black walnut, maple & calvados tart

From the sugar and butter content of some of my recent cooking, you’d never know that I’m a seldom-at-best baker/ maker of desserts. Yet there’s something about winter and holiday time that brings out my inner Martha in the kitchen. Maybe it’s that there’s almost always a reason to take said desserts out of the house rather than have them hanging around tempting us… I get to experience the fun of baking something, try a little piece or two, and not have leftovers.

Although I didn’t get to do a ton of baking during the holidays, the urge still lingered, so a couple weekends ago when we were invited to a friend’s to watch the Lions/Saints game slaughter, I decided that baking a tart was in order. I had just been to Eastern Market that morning, where I’d come across local black walnuts, already shelled, for $4 per half-pound bag. At the next table they were selling them whole, but knowing how difficult they are to shell, I decided $4 was a small price to pay for unstained hands and time saved (not to mention the fact that if I wanted to shell my own, I could forage them for free). I wanted to showcase the walnuts in a tart, so I did a riff on pecan pie, with maple syrup and golden syrup subbed in for corn syrup, and a healthy slug of Calvados for extra oomph.

Although the Lions let us down, at least we had good eats as a consolation: bacon sandwiches, carrot salad, some Romanian cured sausages, and bread pudding, not to mention good drinks and company. The tart was a success, with the funky, almost cheese-like flavor of the walnuts complimented by the maple and apple. To accentuate the Calvados, I made a Calvados-spiked whipped cream to top the tart; a dash of cinnamon on top of that would not be amiss. And although it may be a dessert more suited to autumn or Thanksgiving, your valentine (or a football buddy) just might appreciate it as well.

Black Walnut, Maple & Calvados tart (adapted from Bon Appetit)
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Notes: If you can’t get your hands on any black walnuts, the tart will still be delicious with regular walnuts. If Calvados proves difficult to locate or too expensive, bourbon may be substituted.

for crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small (about 1 cm) dice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk

for filling:
½ cup golden syrup
½ cup maple syrup (grade B is fine)
½ cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup calvados
1 ½ Tbs all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
½ lb shelled black walnuts

for topping:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 Tbs maple syrup
2 Tbs calvados

Prepare crust:
Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk egg and milk in small bowl to blend, then add to processor. Blend until moist clumps form. Place dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Gather corners of plastic wrap around dough to assist with forming dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap well and refrigerate 1 hour. (Dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. Let dough soften slightly before rolling out.)

Prepare topping:
Combine all ingredients and beat in a stand mixer or with electric beaters until mixture has body and has approximately doubled in volume but is not stiff. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Prepare filling:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, bourbon, flour, vanilla and salt in large bowl to blend.

Assemble tart:
Roll out dough on floured surface to 14-inch round. Transfer to 10 or 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom (9-inch glass pie dish can also be used). Press dough into pan and press around the top of the tart pan to cut off excess dough (if you have a lot of extra dough, save it for mini jam tarts or other free-form fruit tarts). Pour filling into prepared crust and sprinkle walnuts evenly on top. Bake until crust is golden and filling is set in center when pie is shaken slightly, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely in pan on rack. To serve, remove tart from pan and transfer to a serving plate. Serve with maple calvados whipped cream and cinnamon, if desired.

meyer lemon pound cake with lemon cream

My in-laws are serious eaters. At all the gatherings I’ve attended, the quantities of food would make the Two Fat Ladies blush, and we always come home with several containers of leftovers. This Christmas was no exception! My mother in law hosted Christmas Eve, as is getting to be the tradition. She veered away from the usual Puerto Rican fare this year (roast pork, arroz con gandules) and went Mexican, making posole, ceviche and nopales (cactus) salad. One of his cousins brought an interesting new (to me) PR dish of chicken gizzards cooked with green bananas and a few green olives (something like this except it was served warm instead of like a salad). The dish is an unglamorous greyish color, but the flavor was great and the gizzards were much more tender than when I’ve made them. It re-inspired me to try making gizzards again after an unsuccessful attempt last summer.

With all this great food in such abundance, it’s always hard to know what to bring. My MIL never wants to assign me a dish; she always demurs, saying that there will be enough food, or to just bring “whatever I want”.  I know this is because she doesn’t want to impose, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about it… she knows I like to cook; I’m part of the family now; shouldn’t that warrant a side dish assignment? To be fair, for all I know she does the same with all the other relatives and they just bring whatever they feel like. But a small part of me would be flattered to be entrusted with something specific.

In the end, I just decided to make a dessert… you can never have too many, especially with his family’s sweet tooth! I didn’t feel like leaving the house for groceries, so I “shopped my pantry” and made a Meyer lemon pound cake with a lemon cream (lemon curd + whipped cream) to go on top. Although I’m not the biggest dessert/ cake person, I do love citrus (see these posts) and almost always have lemons in the house! I wasn’t sure if its simplicity would be appreciated, but to my delight it was almost gone by the end of the night, when richer and sweeter offerings remained.

This recipe is from The Gourmet Cookbook, one I turn to often when I’m looking for a recipe that’s traditional yet updated. The method is simple, and you can certainly serve the cake as-is with the lemon glaze rather than making the lemon cream (although you need to zest all those lemons anyway, so you may as well use them). I did an easy curd where you mix everything and cook it together rather than tempering the eggs; it seemed to work about the same. You’ll want to strain it for textural reasons, but that’s about the fussiest part of the recipe. And I know a heavy cake recipe is probably the last thing you’re looking for right now, but you never know when you might decide to have people over for tea, or when you might need an easy recipe for your next get-together with your in-laws.

(Meyer) lemon pound cake (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl)
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I made this cake with fragrant Meyer lemons, but regular lemons will do just fine. However, you will likely need more lemons for the curd if you don’t use Meyers, which tend to be much juicier.

for the cake:
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
zest of 5 lemons (about ¼ cup)
2 sticks (½ lb) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup whole milk

for the glaze:
1 cup plus 1 Tbs powdered sugar
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Lightly grease and flour a 2-quart kugelhopf pan or bundt pan (a neutral-flavored cooking spray works well to get in the nooks & crannies). Knock out excess flour. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325°.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and zest. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; then add vanilla. Reduce mix speed to low and beat in ⅓ of the flour, the milk, another ⅓ of the flour, the lemon juice, and the remaining flour, beating until just combined and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan (place on a baking sheet for easier transport in and out of the oven) and bake until top is browned and a skewer or knife inserted into the center comes out clean (original recipe specified 45-55 minutes but mine took about an hour and 10 minutes). Meanwhile, make glaze by combining powdered sugar and lemon juice until sugar is fully dissolved.

Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes (see photo- a wine bottle works well for this). Invert on a rack and allow to cool completely before glazing. Put cake on a serving plate and pour glaze over top, allowing it to drip down the sides. If storing for later use, allow glaze to set before covering. This cake keeps well for several days if wrapped and refrigerated; allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Lemon Curd/ Lemon Cream (adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
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Note: in Dorie’s book, she uses the term “lemon cream” to refer to a variation on lemon curd containing a higher ratio of butter.

1 ¼ cups sugar
1 egg
6 egg yolks
6 Tbs butter, cut into 6 pieces
freshly squeezed juice of 4 lemons (use 5 or even 6 if lemons are dry)
optional: 1 pint heavy whipping cream

Whisk together all ingredients in a medium heavy saucepan. Place over medium low heat and cook, stirring vigorously and constantly, until butter melts and mixture starts to thicken (original recipe says 4-6 minutes but I’ve never had mine cook that fast). The curd is done when you can make a track with your finger on a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track. It will look thin, but thicken as it cools. If desired, for a smoother texture, strain curd while still warm through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Press plastic wrap over the top so a skin doesn’t form, and cool in the refrigerator.

To make lemon cream, whip cream with beaters or a stand mixer until it has body, but before it becomes firm. When curd has fully cooled, stir in whipped cream to taste- less for a more pronounced lemon flavor and more for a milder, creamier flavor.

first ice creams of the season: honey pistachio & rhubarb ripple

For someone without much of a sweet tooth, I make a fair amount of ice cream. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I think it’s the fact that there are so many possibilities (endless, really) when it comes to flavor. Unlike baking, which requires a bit more precision, ice cream making has a lot of wiggle room when it comes to proportions. Recipes vary wildly in the amount of eggs, dairy and sugar called for, and somehow all end up yielding a fairly similar end product. As long as you understand the basics of making a custard (and many versions don’t even require that!), you can vary the other elements a great deal and still get a good result. Add to that the fact that making ice cream doesn’t require turning on the oven, and usually only dirties one bowl and one pot, and you have some pretty strong motivation for turning your creative energies in that direction.

The first ice cream I made this year was inspired by sweets of the Middle East and North Africa. Honey and pistachios play a starring role, with orange flower water as supporting cast. But unlike some pastries in which the honey can be cloyingly sweet or the overuse of rosewater brings to mind your grandmother’s perfumed soap, this ice cream strikes a delicate and, if I may say so, delightful balance. Rosewater is perhaps more commonly used in the region, but I’ve never loved the scent or taste of roses so I opt for orange flower. Orange blossom honey would be a natural partner, although any flavorful honey will work. Swirl in a generous amount of toasted pistachios, and you have a dessert worthy of an Arabian prince. In fact, according to Wikipedia’s entry on ice cream,

“As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world’s major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts.”

This experiment turned out better than I could have even hoped for. Despite my non-proclivities for sweets, I found myself sneaking spoonfuls of this a bit more often than I should for someone trying to fit in a wedding dress in 3 months. Those pistachios! (I’m on a bit of a pistachio kick right now, by the way.)

The second ice cream I made, a few days after the first, was designed to use up some rhubarb I’d over-enthusiastically purchased at the farmers’ market. I made a rhubarb sorbet with St. Germaine (an elderflower liqueur) that turned out so-so, but still had a fair quantity left over. I made a basic vanilla custard, a rhubarb purée, and combined the two into an ice cream that tastes like rhubarb pie à la mode. I made the custard slightly sweeter than I normally would, to balance out the pucker-tart rhubarb, and it turned out just right. After making the ice cream, I thought of a better way to get the “ripple” effect (detailed in the recipe), but I suppose there’s always next time for that.

Meanwhile, I offer you these recipes, two of my best to date. The other half of my household, who happens to get very uncomfortable if our ice cream supply ever threatens depletion, is in full agreement.

Honey, Pistachio & Orange Flower Water Ice Cream
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2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk (doesn’t matter whether it’s skim, whole or whatever)
4 egg yolks
½ cup flavorful honey
¾ teaspoon orange flower water (available in most Middle Eastern groceries; rosewater may be substituted if that’s all you can find)
¾ cup pistachios

Heat the milk and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the honey. When the milk is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). Add the orange flower water and remaining 1 cup cream. If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator to chill.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, toast the pistachios either in a dry skillet on the stove over low heat, shaking frequently, or spread on a tray in a low (250°) oven or toaster oven until warmed through. Either way, watch them closely, as nuts burn easily. Allow enough time for the nuts to cool before adding them to the ice cream. When the ice cream is the consistency of soft serve, stir in the pistachios. Pack into a container and place in the freezer for about 2  hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

Rhubarb Ripple Ice Cream
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For the custard:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean

For the rhubarb purée:
½ pound rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
½ cup sugar

Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla. When the milk/cream is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled through.

To make the rhubarb purée, combine the rhubarb and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is falling apart. You’ll need to stir at the beginning so the sugar doesn’t burn, but the rhubarb will quickly begin to render its juices. If you have an immersion/ wand blender, use that to purée the rhubarb; otherwise, you can use a regular blender, but don’t over-mix as it adds too much air to the purée. Transfer to a zip-loc bag and chill thoroughly.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Snip the tip off one corner of the bag containing the rhubarb. Layer the ice cream in your chosen container,  squiggling the rhubarb over it as you go. Place in the freezer for about 2 hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

les makrouds, les amies

A couple of years ago, shortly after starting this blog, I did an online search for other Michigan food bloggers, with the idea of doing a little networking. At the time, I found only one in Detroit proper, a vegan blogger to whom I reached out but was ignored (oh well). However, I did come across a few bloggers in the Ann Arbor area as well as a couple in the far Detroit suburbs. Several of them had been in contact with each other for a year or so and had formed a small (back then- now over 100 members!) Google group called the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers. This was used for support and networking, linking to each other’s pages, asking each other food-related questions, sharing articles, and occasionally hosting potluck gatherings. Not knowing any other food bloggers “IRL”, I was really excited to connect with these ladies, some of whom had already been blogging for two or three years. Cynthia (aka Mom), Shayne, Alex, Patti and Maggie were just a few of the members who participated regularly in the mailing list and who helped bolster my confidence and enthusiasm for blogging in that first year.

There was another person on the list whose blog drew me in instantly, with its evocative photography and memoir-like stories of her family and childhood in Algeria. We shared the small bond of speaking French, exchanging the occasional email or blog comment en français. And although her life as a married, Muslim mother and homemaker (not to mention recently arrived U.S. resident) was worlds apart from my own, we hit it off, and I came to think of her as a friend.

Although we still haven’t met in person, both of us missing MLFB gatherings the other was attending, we have kept in touch over email and Facebook. When a freelance writing opportunity came my way that I was unable to pursue, I immediately thought of Warda- not only was it for a publication in her neck of the woods, but I knew that her beautiful writing style would be an asset to any editor.

Imagine my delight when, a couple of weeks later, I came home from work to find a package with a carefully wrapped box inside and a postcard thank-you. Inside the box were eight makrouds, golden, buttery diamonds of semolina, each soaked with a honey syrup and filled with date paste (two were, irresistably,  enjoyed upon opening, which is why the photos show only six). The pastries  were lightly scented with orange flower water, which reminded Marvin of desserts his Iraqi grandmother used to make. Although I had no such taste memory to transport me back to childhood, I savored every crumb, nibbling slowly to draw out the sweet pleasure.

Over the next few days, every time I ate one of the makrouds, I thought how I was lucky to have encountered (even if only virtually) this talented woman, whose skills in the kitchen are apparently equal to her (trilingual!) skills with the written word.  One of these days we might meet for tea or a trip to a specialty market, and chat in franglais. But even if our busy schedules don’t permit that any time soon, I will still consider her une amie.  Do yourself a favor and check out her lovely words and photographs on her blog, the 64 Sq. Foot Kitchen.

buttermilk-sweet corn ice cream with berry coulis

What to do when faced with two ice cream recipes that sound equally fabulous, and a bout of indecision?  Combine them, of course!

I was recently invited to a weeknight dinner party and volunteered to bring ice cream, as I could make it ahead and just grab it after work on my way to the party.  I love an excuse to make ice cream, because the flavor possibilities are pretty endless (if you don’t believe me, check out this article in the NY Times… scoop of Government Cheese, anyone?).  I found out another guest was bringing a blackberry pie, so that helped narrow it down.  I thought of a buttermilk ice cream I’d made last summer from Smitten Kitchen, but I also had in mind a sweet corn ice cream I’d had years ago at Tapawingo* in Ellsworth, MI. The restaurant served the ice cream with a berry cobbler and the combination was perfect.  I was torn- which one to make?

I decided to throw caution to the wind and combine the two flavors (yes, I am being facetious, as I realize this won’t win any awards for all-time most daring ice cream flavor).  Both recipes were originally from Claudia Fleming (author of well-loved dessert book The Last Course) and had similar proportions, so it was pretty easy to adapt the two by simply substituting buttermilk for the regular milk called for in the sweet corn recipe.  I added half a vanilla bean for good measure, and crossed my fingers.  The results were pretty spectacular if I do say so myself.  The slightly tart buttermilk was a welcome counterpoint to the corn’s milky sweetness.  In fact, I liked the pairing so much that I was thinking of trying to adapt this flavor combination into some sort of chilled summer soup- like a Midwestern chlodnik of sorts.

If you’re not serving this ice cream with a berry cobbler or pie, I highly recommend drizzling it with a berry coulis- the flavors are highly complimentary, and while the ice cream is great on its own, the berries take it to another level. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a coulis (although it’s quite easy), you could of course just scatter some berries alongside.

A couple of ice cream-making notes:  Fleming’s recipes call for 9 yolks and 12 yolks, but I cut it down to 8 and it was just fine.  You could even go with 6 if you wanted.  The buttermilk is richer than the milk it replaces, so your result will still be plenty indulgent.  As for making the custard base- there seems to be this great fear, perpetuated by many a cookbook, that custard-making is fraught with danger; that it might betray you at any moment, turning hopelessly into scrambled eggs.  For years, I cooked my custards at much-too-low temperatures, sweating over them for eons, waiting in vain for them to magically thicken.  Don’t be afraid to heat the mixture until you can see steam coming off it; otherwise you’ll be at it forEVER.  As long as you keep up the stirring and don’t let it boil, you’ll be OK.  Also, because of the high liquid ratio this particular custard doesn’t get very thick, so don’t worry if it seems wimpy; when it freezes it’ll be just fine.

*In searching for the restaurant’s website for this post, I was saddened to learn that Tapawingo closed its doors last year.  Arguably the best restaurant in Michigan, they garnered all kinds of awards, stars and accolades.  Like many Michigan businesses, they were forced to close because of the downturn in the economy.  They will be sorely missed.  In addition to breathtaking meals with a focus on local MI products long before it was trendy, the grounds and gardens of the restaurant were gorgeous.  I can only hope someone decides to take up the reins and re-open something in that location, although they’d have big shoes to fill food-wise.

Buttermilk-Sweet Corn Ice Cream (adapted from two recipes by Claudia Fleming)
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2 cups buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 ears sweet corn
½ a vanilla bean (1 tsp vanilla extract may be substituted)

Note: As Ms. Fleming wisely points out, this recipe will only be as good as the sweet corn you use to make it.   For optimal results, use local corn that has been picked no more than 2 days prior.

Directions: Remove the husks and cornsilk from the corn and break each cob into thirds.  Cut the kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife,  reserving the cobs. Put the kernels in a blender with the cream and buttermilk and pulse into a rough purée.

Pour the cream mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding the corncob pieces, vanilla bean, salt, and ½ cup of the sugar.  Bring to a boil, then cover and remove from heat.  Let steep for one hour.

Remove the corncobs and discard.  Fish out the vanilla bean and set aside.  Strain the mixture through a medium or fine mesh strainer, pressing down firmly to expel as much of the liquid as possible; discard the solids*.  Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, adding them to the cream mixture (if using vanilla extract, add it now).

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar.  Whisk in a little of the hot cream to temper the yolks, then add them to the saucepan.  Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon.  Pass through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least 4 hours).  Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes about 1 quart.

*I couldn’t help but think that rather than tossing it, this deliciously sweetened corn pap would be great in some sort of muffin or quick bread, but alas, I didn’t have a chance to experiment. And speaking of not wasting, you can rinse off the vanilla bean, let it dry, and blitz it with sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Mixed Berry Coulis
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1 1/2 cups raspberries, washed
1 1/2 cups blueberries, washed
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze of lemon or dash of balsamic vinegar, optional

Notes: You can, of course, substitute other types of berries; you may just need to slightly tweak the sugar quantity.   This recipe does not produce an overly sweet sauce; if you want a sweeter result you can up the sugar to 1/3 cup.

Place the blueberries and sugar in a pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  (The residual water from washing the berries should be sufficient, but if not, you can add a small amount of water.)  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to break down; you can encourage this process by mashing them with a fork.

When the blueberries have turned sauce-like, add the raspberries and cook for a couple minutes longer (these will break down very quickly).  Taste the sauce and adjust if needed by adding a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lemon or small dash of balsamic.  Strain the sauce through a chinoise or fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the solids (you may need to do this in 2 batches).  You should end up with about 2 cups sauce and 1/2 cup solids to be discarded.  Use as a sauce for ice cream, panna cotta or other desserts.

mushroom tart for a bordeaux wine tasting

Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal.  You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends?  Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!).  There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc.  Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question.  I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.

And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods.  I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection.  Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine.  I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.

I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t).  I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth.  I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable.  A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch.  The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.

As for those wines?  Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes!  A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!)  All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential.  (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.

Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity;  I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines.  This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar.  I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.

Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
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1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)

1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese

Put some water on to boil.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.

Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding).  As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice.  About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry.  Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.

Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms.  While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly.  (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well.  Remove from heat.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream.  Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.)  Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell.  Grate a light layer of cheese over the top.  Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Tart Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
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Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes.  Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining.  Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds).  Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.

To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden.  Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil.  (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)