Pork Rillettes

Pork RillettesBeach Bites
Hitting the beach in the summer is awesome…the sun…the surf. There is nothing better than kicking back at the beach and relaxing. And, you’ll need it because as great as a day at the beach can be, the schlepping of all of the stuff you need is not.

I admire those people who can throw everything they need for a day at the beach into a cinch-sac and head out the door. I am not one of those people. I would like to be—but I am not. I require a chair and an umbrella at a minimum. And, of course, a cooler full of tasty food and refreshing drinks.

Of all the things you need for a day at the beach, I think the food it the hardest because it actually takes some preplanning. Because we head to the beach every summer when we go to Tahoe, my sister and I are now a well-oiled machine when it comes to packing lunch for 10 of us. But, you better be okay with a sandwich and some chips for lunch. That is just our routine at Tahoe.

Before we got married and even for some time after, my husband and I used to spend our weekends sailing the bay either on our own or with friends. Our favorite place to stop for lunch was on Angel Island and I always tried to pack something good to eat. Sometimes we hiked around to the south side and ate on the beach there. (We did that once for Fleet Week. The Blue Angels flew right over our heads. It was fantastic.) More often than not though we would find an empty picnic table or sometimes just eat on the boat. It goes without saying that whatever we brought had to be compact. The sailboat wasn’t that big. And, if you had to haul your lunch around an island, you didn’t want to bring a big heavy cooler. So I got good at making what I call snacky lunches.

Snacky lunches are basically picnics made up of a bunch different things that when you choose a little of this and a little of that make up a rather lovely lunch. They usually consisted of a fresh baguette, a variety of cheeses, assorted charcuterie, cut veggies, some dips or spreads, fruit, and something bite-size and decadent for dessert. Sometimes, if we had a bigger group I would add on an orzo or tomato salad.

Occasionally I would make Rillettes because it is the perfect picnic food. You can spread it on a fresh baguette or crackers and you store it in a mason jar for easy transport. If you are planning on hitting the beach in the near future, give this a try…

Pork Rillettes
Yields about 5 cups Read more…

Fresh Cherry & Apricot Clafoutis

Fresh Cherry & Apricot ClafoutisRainy Day Cherries
It is the month of May, right? Ok. Good. I just wanted to check because as I gaze out my window right now it’s looking a whole lot like February. What is this rain, people? I had big plans for this weekend and now they are all washed out…

For the past week, I have been getting notices from some of my favorite U-Pick farms that they will be open for business this weekend. (Let the cherry and apricot picking begin!) And while I have no problem going picking in a light rain, the thunderstorms and torrential downpours that are predicted might be a bit much. My disappointment in possibly not being able to go is less about the fruit and more about this being the first time in years that we actually have a free weekend to go a-pickin’.

I love U-Pick farms. Probably to the point of obsession. I just get so much joy being outside on a ladder trying to find the best ones. Plus my kids still think it’s fun which is fantastic because the list of activities they deem acceptable to do with their parents is minuscule.

At this point, I am in wait-and-see mode. Sunday looks like it might be okay. And, yes, I can grab some at the store since the cherries and apricots are in. But, the experience is not the same. They kinda frown on climbing ladders in the Produce Department. Party poopers!

Fresh Cherry & Apricot Clafoutis Read more…

Home Made Croissants

Home Made CroissantsCroissant Crazy
Over the years, my sister and I have taken a lot of cooking classes. So many, in fact, that there isn’t a whole lot out there that we haven’t taken. By no means have we mastered the art of cooking. Far from it! But, you do reach a point that, unless it is something very specific, you can pick up any recipe and produce a better than average result. There was one thing that both of us were fairly intent on learning—and that is how to make croissants. Or, to be more specific, the laminated dough used to make croissants and other flaky goodness.

I’ve always been a fan of a really good croissant. I mean what’s not to love? You just can’t go wrong with flakey buttery pastry, with or without filling, fresh from the oven. Am I right?

This particular drive to learn the art of croissant was born out of an obsession with the orange morning buns that are produced by our favorite bakery in Tahoe City, CA. I can’t even with these morning buns. No trip to the lake is complete without these for breakfast at least once but they’re up there and we’re down here. We had to figure out a way to recreate them but to do that we needed to learn the basics.

This was how we found ourselves spending a lovely Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago learning to make croissants. It was great. It was challenging. And I have found that having an industrial grade sheeter would make the folding process so much easier but, alas, that is not an option.

To be frank, croissants are not a thing you make on a whim. They are a project that requires hours. It is something you do as much for the process as for the end result. It is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday when you have absolutely nothing going on.

This weekend for me is one of those rare weekends where we will not be running around shuttling kids here and there and my plan is to make a batch of croissants just to make sure I can do it without the instructor there. Should be interesting…

For those adventurous spirits out there below is a great recipe for those who are willing to give it a shot. For the rest, there is definitely something to be said for letting someone else do the work and grabbing a dozen or so from your favorite bakery.

Home Made Croissants
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields about 2 dozen Read more…

French Fruit Tart — A Classic

French Fruit Tart — A ClassicCamp de Cuisine
I’ve written about my daughter and her summer kitchen shenanigans a few times over the past weeks. And, you might be happy to know that things are still going full steam (just ask my dishwasher). Right now, she seems to be in a French pastry phase. While I fully support her curiosity and creativity, I am wondering when she’ll get to the one bowl or less phase….

Though she hasn’t quite reached that Julie & Julia work her way through an entire cookbook level of obsession, she’s pretty close. For Fourth of July, she made Pâte à Choux for red, white and blue cream puffs with raspberry cream and blue sprinkles. That same week, she tackled French Macarons and they turned out way better than any of my attempts. The macarons actually had feet—and anyone who’s watched any of the baking championships knows how important feet are. Thankfully, my sons are her taste testers or there would be no way for my husband or me to fit into our pants.

This week, my kitchen (and the dishwasher) is getting a much-needed break as my teenaged chef de cuisine is attending a summer pastry camp. (Where was this when I was 12?) Yesterday they made a classic French Fruit Tart and I actually learned something new. If you spread a thin layer of semi-sweet or white chocolate on the bottom of the tart shell and then put the pastry cream in, the tart will not get soggy. (My mind is blown.)

These tarts are so versatile and fairly easy to make that you will find it easy to whip one together for any of your summer get-togethers. To make it even easier, I will substitute a good quality vanilla pudding mix like Dr. Oetkers or even Bird’s custard mix instead of making the pastry cream. Feel free to use any combination of ripe summer fruits to finish.

French Fruit Tart — A Classic
Adapted from Sur la Table
Finish the top with the ripest, most luscious seasonal fruit you can find. Summer berries are an obvious choice, but also try slices of nectarines, plums, poached pears, mango, or kiwi, depending upon the season.  Read more…

Chicken and Garlic Fricassee with Sweet Garlic Confit

Chicken and Garlic Fricassee with Sweet Garlic ConfitFrench Roots
I feel like we have finally turned a corner. As I look out my window at the clear blue skies I actually think that, maybe, hopefully, please dear lord let it be true, the rain could possibly be over? The calendar says spring after all….

Spring is a welcome occurrence. Weather is probably the most important reason, with Baseball as a very close second. But, for me, it is also a time when I flip a switch on my cooking. As new spring produce comes into market my dinners get lighter and fresher. And consistently, they get French-er.

I always seem to circle back to French food in the spring. Maybe it’s that whole Spring rebirth thing. Cooking French food gets me back to basic techniques so that I can go forth and innovate. Kind of like a spring cleaning for my culinary mind. Clean out all of the winter recipes and start fresh.

I have a number of French cookbooks and one of my favorite authors is Patricia Wells. Since moving to France in 1980, she has become an expert in French cooking with an emphasis on the Provence region where she opened her acclaimed cooking school.

This Chicken and Garlic Fricassee is very French—and very garlicy—but in the best way possible. The garlic confit is a must, so you will need to plan ahead for this one. The original recipe calls for a whole chicken cut into 8 parts. I prefer to do this with bone-in chicken thighs

Joyeux printemps à tous!

Chicken and Garlic Fricassee with Sweet Garlic Confit
Adapted from The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells

Read more…