Madeleines for GrandmaMa's Day

Mother's Day for me is all about "Ma." She's been filling in for missing mothers in my family for more than twenty years now. As the years have gone on, she's taken on even more "children." Being a mother, is what she does best. She never had a professional career, although she would have made a hell of a teacher / bookkeeper / nurse / psychologist / personal assistant. I know because she's been busy playing all of those roles to an impressive amount of "children" consisting of her kids, grand-kids, great-grand-kids, nieces, and neighbors, for all these years. She isn't a grandmother like ones that you always hear about, cooking big meals from scratch of recipes from the old-country (she prefers the ones on the back of the box), or one with tales from a glamorous past from days long ago. She's sweet and simple, unfussy almost to a fault. She's wise and strong, and has only gotten more so with age, but she's also hysterical, and someone who can make you feel instantly comfortable. If she had a culinary equivalent it would be the Madeleine... even if she doesn't know what they are. Madeleines are little tea cakes that you can serve at breakfast, brunch, tea time or dessert. If you are like me and my Ma, you'll think most times are acceptable for a little something sweet. They are well-known as being associated with Marcel Proust's writings on involuntary memory. (More about that here). However, despite their fancy little shapes and associations, they're actually a snap to make, if you get yourself the proper pan. (I normally wouldn't advocate buying a one-trick pony pan, but these little cakes are great for party favors and all sorts of occasions, that I think you'll get a lot of use out of it). The traditional flavoring is a little lemon zest and vanilla. That is how I normally make them. In honor of Ma, I wanted to try to flavor them with strawberry, which turned out very nice too. The jam I used did nothing to change the color of the cake, so I cheated with a bit of pink food coloring. I know, I know, but pink seemed so much more festive. It was only a drop too. If you can find strawberry extract that might eliminate the need for the food coloring. I checked three stores, but I couldn't find it. I think the flavor from using jam is probably preferable anyways.

Bake these and give them out as Mother's Day gifts to friends or family, if you won't be celebrating with your mom. You pretty much can't mess these up, unless you over-bake them, so watch them towards the end. They're a classy choice, making it seem that you went to the extra trouble to think about someone other than yourself. Exactly what the best Mas in the world do naturally.

Strawberry Madeleines Adapted from Bon Appétit.

2 eggs 2/3 cup sugar minus 2 teaspoons 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 1/2 tablespoons good quality strawberry jam Couple of drops of pink liquid food coloring (optional) Pinch of salt 1 cup of all-purpose flour 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour madeleine pans well.

Melt butter and set aside to cool. Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer till blended. Beat in vanilla, jam, and salt. Beat in food coloring if using till batter is desired color. Add flour and beat until just blended.

Gradually add cooled melted butter to mixture, beating until just blended.

Spoon one tablespoon of batter into each cake shell. Bake until puffed and edges are lightly golden, about 12-15 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and finishing cooling on a wire rack.

Muffins that adapt to the seasons

lemon-pear muffinsHappy Spring everyone! The weather is practically perfect and it seems everyone is outside taking in the sunshine. Which, is why you should get out of the house, away from the stove, and enjoy the weather. Time to start thinking about spring vegetables and before you know it, summer fruit. That's why I thought about these muffins. They're a basic muffin recipe flavored with fruit, and nuts if you want, which adapts to the season and what fruit is available in the market that day. They're an easy, effortless way to do a little home-cooking quickly, and produce a perfect little portable breakfast treat to take to the park, where you can sit in the sunshine with your dog, your friends, a newspaper, or all of the above. Muffins and me have had some ups and downs. When I was younger, blueberry muffins from a mix in a red box might have been one of the first things I ever baked. When I went to college, the store across the corner from where I had my classes sold muffins that were about one pound each. They were massive, and I ate one almost every time I had a morning class. Mostly sticking to the chocolate-chocolate-chip variety. By junior year, I realized that I was basically eating a large piece of cake for breakfast every morning and they weren't that exciting anymore. After a brief switch to brain muffins, I just quit on them entirely. I never touched one again for years. I decided they were unhealthy and boring. When I started cooking at home more, I gave them a try again since I had all these muffin tins, but I was a bit too preoccupied with the francophile infatuation I was suffering from post-college, and all I wanted to eat was flaky croissants in the morning (I wasn't concerned with the health factor of those cause we all know French girls are skinny).

These days, my tastes have come full-circle and I'm back to loving muffins. They serve as a great vehicle for jam and once they're a day-old they're even better toasted with some butter. The recipe I use is adapted from one I found in a magazine's cooking with kids section, so you really can do this. The addition of a bit of plain yogurt is what I think makes these much more moist and tender then other muffins. As more and more fruit comes into season, and some of it gets lost in your kitchen and gets a bit past it's prime, muffins are where you can use up over-ripe fruit. But, in all honesty, I must warn you, muffins are the baking gateway drug. Make them and you'll suddenly realize that baking is fun, you want to do more of it, and harder recipes will suddenly seem reasonable to try.

Fruit (and nut) Muffins Adapted from Delicious Magazine. Makes about 7 large muffins or 14 mini-muffins, or the recipe can be easily halved if it's just for you. Below are some seasonal fruit flavor ideas.

Basic Plain Muffin 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (original recipe used self-rising flour) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup sugar 2 large eggs 1/2 cup yogurt (I used Fage brand, full-fat or low-fat is ok) 1/2 whole milk 1/4 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 cup (or a little less) cooking oil (any kind but olive)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease whatever muffin tins you'll be using with butter. Sift dry ingredients (flour-sugar) into a large bowl using a mesh strainer.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Measure all your wet ingredients (yogurt - vanilla) and mix together with the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture. Gently fold together until flour is incorporated.

At this point add whatever fruit and nut mixtures you want to flavor the muffins (see ideas below) into the batter and mix together. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins until each muffin is about 2/3 full.

Bake for 25 minutes or until they are puffy and golden brown. Cool in the tin for about 5-10 minutes and then flip out of the pan to cool on a rack the rest of the way.

Fruit add-in ideas Spring: Apricots (ripe), chopped + pecans, chopped Juice and zest from one Orange + 1 mashed banana + handful of hazelnuts chopped

Winter: 2 Pears peeled and cored and chopped +zest of lemon and juice 1/2 of it + handful of raisins

Summer: Options are endless...but blueberries are a classic.

A cheesy scone for teatime, or anytime

If you like tea and jam, then you probably know about scones. But, if flowery cups and saucers and sweet things are not your cup of tea (sorry) then maybe you're not a fan of them. Scones are a dense, sturdy type of biscuit that make me think of British ladies in funny hats at tea time. Actually, despite their association in my mind, I find scones very versatile and easier to adapt to different meals than say a muffin. There are many different types of scones, depending on where you live. (here's a brief history). The scones we often see in stores in the States are overly sweet. This recipe is a savory version with no sugar at all and works well not just at breakfast, but anytime a cheese infused baked good would be nice. And really, when isn't there such a time?

These savory scones were inspired by an old post by Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini. It was one of the first scone recipes I ever tried and it was a huge hit. It incorporates Clotilde's suggestions for how to make your own dried pears, which are easier than you'd imagine. Core a pear and place on a baking rack for 4 hours in a low temperature oven (175 deg F), flipping them half-way through. Just remember to dry them the night before you want to make the scones, and to avoid snacking on them, leaving you none left for baking. I have done it, and if you fall victim yourself, dried apricots finely chopped are a good substitute. I changed the type of cheese from the original recipe and tweaked the measurements a bit for what worked for me. I like using Gruyere cheese because it makes me think of France and French food, which in turn makes me think of Clotilde, who was one of my first introductions into the world of food blogging. I watched her blog grow with a mixture of admiration and jealousy. She made it all sound so lovely, living in Paris and discovering the joys of cooking. She was often my escape as I sat at my desk pretending to do work, reading about what I wanted to cook later that day. Her life seemed like a dream to me, filled with good smells and always something new and delicious to discover. I am glad that food blogging didn't disappear like a passing fad, but entrenched itself into our food culture, where we read and learn about cooking, and find inspiration and community. Food blogs have changed a lot since I started reading them, but the old posts are like old memories. It still thrills me to see my comment on her post from 2006 and remember how elated I was the first time I made this recipe. That's why I had to share it.

I have made these scones for tea parties, weekend brunches, and at times just for my own enjoyment. I generally eat them not in a dainty fashion, but standing over the kitchen counter slathering jam on them warm from the oven. That's really the key point to remember. You should think of these as the embodiment of what's great about home cooking. Your scones can be anything you want them to be, sweet or savory, plain or jazzed up. You do not need a special occasion more than a meal at home as your excuse to make these. Baking scones is all about doing something that makes you happy in your daily life, whenever you can make time, even if it's cheesy.

Cheesy Scones with Dried Pears Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini. Feel free to substitute your favorite types of hard cheese and dried fruit in this recipe.

1 1/3 cup flour 3/4 teaspoon baking powder pinch of Cayenne pepper 3/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese 1/4 cup chopped dried pears 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 8 tablespoons cream (heavy, half&half) 1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon of water, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Whisk flour through salt in a large bowl until combined. Add butter and rub into dry ingredients until mixture resembles course crumbs. I do this with my hands, working quickly.

Add cheese and pears and mix in with a fork. Add cream and mix gently until dough starts to come together. Add more cream if needed.

Turn dough out onto floured surface, giving it a gentle knead if it's not completely holding together. Roll out till it's a circle about 3/4 inch thick. If it's flatter that's ok, just means you'll have flatter scones. They're still tasty.

Place scones on baking sheet and brush top with egg mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffy and golden. I like to rotate the baking sheet half-way through for even baking. Feel free to add a sprinkling of extra grated cheese on top 10 minutes before they're done.


PC140206.JPGI did some Hanukkah food research today, and to my surprise there are two schools of thought. One belief is that holiday foods must be fried, while others merely require the food be cooked with olive oil. The holiday foods I grew up with were always fried, so I assumed that is what they needed to be. But after consulting with the all-knowing, all-seeing internets, I realized that there are sources out there that do not feel the frying aspect is necessary. Despite fried food's deliciousness, I decided that I don't need to celebrate this particular miracle from thousands of years ago with trying to create my own miracle (namely not gaining a pants size or clogged arteries from eating fried food for 8 days). I'm going with the more sensible, "cooked with olive oil" tradition.

With that cleared up, I proceeded with a quick light supper (borrowed from my brunch repertoire) of Huevos a la Mexicana. It is basically eggs scrambled with the colors of the Mexican flag, green (chiles), white (onions), and red (tomatoes). It is another one of these modest dishes where a few very ordinary ingredients combine to make a fine meal. I always serve these egss with small corn tortillas for a more authentic flavor then the supermarket flour type.

Cook the onions in miraculous wonderful olive oil until translucent, then add the chiles (leave the ribs on for a spicier version), and the tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes until some of the juice from the tomatoes renderss out a bit, and the chile is no longer raw. Then pour in some beaten eggs and mix it altogether. Cover and let the eggs set. That's it, nothing fancy. Although this is not holiday fare to serve your relatives, it is technically within keeping with the tradition. It will allow you to bravely plough through one of the eight days without feeling remorse for subsisting on fried food and holiday cookies for the next week (or two). Viva la revolución!


Hanukkah Huevos (a la Mexicana) Adapted from Mexico, The Beautiful Cookbook.2 tablespoons olive oil 1/4-1/2 onion, chopped 2 chiles, finely diced (serrano or jalapeno) 1 tomato chopped (or about 3/4 cup of diced canned tomatoes) salt 3-4 eggs, lightly beaten


Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and saute until transparent. Add the chiles, tomato, and salt and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the beaten eggs to the pan and stir to incorporate. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until eggs are set. Break up with a wooden spoon once done. Serve with warm corn tortillas.