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Homemade

Blueberry & Lemon Curd Crepes


Brunch, Anyone?

Recently we were gifted with a trove of blueberries, picked fresh this summer from a local orchard and frozen at the height of their sweetness. At the same time, we found ourselves with a glut of lemons. After recently drooling over other people's citrus curds such as these from Michael at Verses from My Kitchen and Viviane at Chocolate Chili Mango, I decided it was time I tried making lemon curd again. Now that I'm reminded how easy this is, there will be more curd.

So there was a rich and creamy lemon curd in the fridge, and fresh-picked blueberries in the freezer. All we needed was a canvas. Pie? Pancakes? Tart?

As we've been unpacking these last few months, we've been coming across all sorts of goodies we haven't seen in a long while. Some we haven't seen since we left Germany. One of these was a crepe pan. Now you would be forgiven for assuming that this is one of my many, many kitchen tools. In fact, it is one of T's. A dyed-in-wool blue-white-and-red Francophile, he loves crepes. He perfected his technique earlier this year on some savory crepes (his preferred variety) and some sweet ones with homemade "ricotta" and fruit. He agreed to whip up another batch one Sunday morning as an envelope for these treats. He gets consistent and delicious results from a recipe he found on allrecipes.com.

As you can see, his crepe pan is not the swirl-the-pan variety with which you might be familiar. Rather it is a home version of the ones the crepe-vendors on the street corners of Paris might have — it even came with a special batter-spreading tool and a crepe turner — both made of wood.





Pretty cool, right?


The best part is that on that Sunday morning my only job was to make the coffee and thaw the blueberries, and voila! I turned around and there were Blueberry and Lemon Curd Crepes. There will be more crepe brunches. Crepe dinners, too.

CREPE BATTER
T. uses this one from allrecipes.com
Makes 10-12 12" crepes

1 cup (100g) unbleached flour
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
½ cup (120ml) milk
½ cup (120ml) water
2 TBL unsalted butter, melted

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and eggs. Combine milk and water and gradually add to dry ingredients, stirring to mix well. Add butter and beat until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour approximately ¼ cup (60ml) batter onto the griddle for each crepe. Working quickly, tilt pan in a circular motion so that the batter evenly coats the pan.

Cook for about 90 seconds, until the batter just sets. Loosen with a spatula, turn and briefly cook the flip side, about 15 seconds. Remove to plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter. Use wax or parchment paper to separate crepes as they stack.

Fill with sweet or savory fillings as your heart desires!


LEMON CURD
Adapted from Joy of Baking
Makes 1½ cups

It's worth seeking out organic lemons for this recipe since the zest is used in such copious amounts.

¾ cup raw sugar
3 large eggs
3 large organic lemons
pinch of sea salt
4 TBL (56g) unsalted butter, cut into dice, keep chilled until needed

Wash and pat dry lemons.

Over medium heat, set up a double boiler or stainless steel bowl set over a medium pot filled with an inch of water. Remove top pan from heat, and add eggs and sugar. Using a microplane or fine grater, zest whole lemons directly over eggs and sugar. Repeat for all lemons.

Now cut each lemon in half and juice with a lemon reamer or juicer. Strain to remove seeds and measure ½ cup (120ml) fresh-squeezed juice. Add to eggs and beat well with a whisk to combine. Place top boiler/pan over simmering water and continue whisking until mixture begins to thicken (like a cream sauce or sour cream). Don't leave unattended or you may get some curdling.

Add pieces of cold butter, whisking in each addition well before adding the next. Remove from heat and turn curd out into a jar or bowl for storage or serving. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic film on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Keep refrigerated for up to one week.

Besides filling crepes, use lemon curd to fill tart shells, adorn scones, smear on pancakes, bagels and waffles, or swirl into plain yogurt for a breakfast treat. Either alone or with its favorite companion clotted or whipped cream, lemon curd is one of those great secret weapons that transforms ordinary into memorable with a dollop.


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Soup's On: Potato, Leek & Rainbow Chard


Well here we are, more than half way through National Soup Month and this is only the first soup we've posted! Truth to tell, I didn't even remember January was set aside to honor soup until my SIL sent me a head's up about it yesterday. (Thanks, Tra!)

As yours probably does too, our soup consumption climbs as the thermometer starts to dip. And we've been near or below freezing for awhile in our corner of Maryland. Therefore, lots of soup.

And for some reason, we've had more than our usual share of potato-based soups lately. Maybe because these potato soup recipes usually don't require a lot of long-simmering stock and can be ready from knife to table in under an hour. Maybe because potatoes are both plentiful and filling in the winter. Maybe because we love potatoes. Probably all of the above.

When first snow, then ice kept this island girl indoors and away from driving last week, by Friday I was really eager to re-stock fresh greens in our larder. I spotted this bunch of rainbow chard from across the crowded produce department of our nearest Korean market, glimpsed in snatches between a shuffling mass of bundled shoppers (transported in 4 buses from a nearby retirement community) all jostling for the best produce. But the chard's bright colors were a technicolor beacon: Buy Me, it called. And I knew I would.

So now it's starring in this potato-based soup which I've dubbed Rainbow Soup, named for the colorful chard stalks that double as a healthy, low-cal "crouton" garnish. In addition to potatoes, there is a healthy helping of leeks and a whisper of cream. Hmmmm, you're saying to yourself, this sounds suspiciously like vichyssoise. And you're right! That is one of our favorite soups — chilled or not — so we're building on that flavor profile. The inspiration for throwing in the greens comes from another hearty favorite, Caldo Verde, the Portuguese-style potato and kale soup.

The rainbow inspiration also comes from waxing nostalgic about living on Oahu while putting on 3 layers of clothing every morning — and that's if I'm just staying home! (Did I mention I grew up on an island?) Hawaii is nicknamed the Rainbow State, for obvious reasons, and the vibrant color and crunch from these chard stems are a welcome splash of Aloha against the monotone in both the skies and our soup bowls. (Though I would prefer my Aloha-in-a-bowl in the form of a Loco-Moco, but that's another story...)

And since we're taking this 4800 mile segue anyway, I've been meaning to give a shout out to the folks at Hawaii's public radio station, KIPO, and one of our favorite local programs there, Aloha Shortsa weekly program hosted by Cedric Yamanka of short stories written by local authors and read before a live studio audience by local actors and story tellers. The best way to get your weekly dose of island flavor, short of the 12-hour flight from the East Coast! Aloha Shorts has long been available for live-streaming from the KIPO website, but for those of us who are not awake at midnight (EST) to catch the show live, Aloha Shorts is now available as a podcast from Bamboo Ridge Press on the iTunes store! As of this writing, there are 15 weeks worth of readings awaiting your listening pleasure. But there's a limited window of time during which each new episode is available, so get them while you can. You can also subscribe to the podcast so you won't miss any new shows. Unlike other podcasts, these aren't deleted from my iTunes library after the first listen-to so whenever I really need a dose of island sunshine it's as close as my computer or iPod.
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(UPDATE 01/22/2011: I received a comment from one of the producers of Aloha Shorts with the happy news that you can find ALL of the shows episodes on the Bamboo Ridge Press website! You won't be able to download them from here, but you can stream any show on demand. In her own words:

"Please let your readers know that all the past episodes are available at http://www.bambooridge.com/planet.aspx?pid=3.  Just go to "Broadcast Archives" and click on "Show More."  We're happy to warming the hearts of those on the East Coast and around the world with the humor, memories, and wisdom of Hawaii's local literature.  We're also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alohashorts.  Hau'oli Makahiki Hou.  ~  Phyllis Look"

Thank you for the info, Phyllis. And a great big Aloha to all the folks on the show!
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So to recap, a rainbow in your soup bowl and tales of living Aloha in your earbuds... See, winter doesn't have to be so gray.

Happy National Soup Month, Tracey! Hope the soup's on in your home, too!


What's your favorite soup? Speaking of all things Aloha, this is mine.

RAINBOW SOUP
Serves 4 persons

1 bunch of rainbow swiss chard
3 large leeks, sliced and washed well
4 TBL unsalted butter
2 TBL olive oil
4 large Russet potatoes, about 1½ lbs (680g), peeled and sliced thinly
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups (1L) low-salt chicken or vegetable broth, or water
¼ cup (60ml) dry sherry or dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc
2 TBL light cream (optional)
3 TBL grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish

Wash chard well in a mixture of 2 qt/L of cool water and 2 TBL of distilled white vinegar. Rinse under cold running water and drain in a colander. Separate the stalks from the greens and trim, then dice. Reserve a small handful of diced stalk (I chose some of each color) for garnish. Shred the chard greens.

In a large Dutch oven or small soup pot, saute leeks in butter and oil over medium heat. When leeks have softened, about 10 minutes, add chard stalks, potatoes, salt, pepper and broth. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are completely soft.

Using a hand blender or potato masher (depending on whether you want a pureed soup or a more rustic version), blend the potatoes into the broth. Add sherry, Parmesan and chard greens, and simmer 10 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add cream, if using, and correct seasoning.

Ladle in individual bowls and garnish with reserved diced chard stalks and Parmesan.


This is very filling, and we skipped the breads we would usually have with soup.
A little ironic, given my current obsession with bread-baking...



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Whey Cool: Lasagne with Homemade Cheese

There's nothing more fun than learning something new and then just doing it! So as 2010 draws to a close, I finally challenged myself to do something I had only lusted after until now. Yes, I made fresh cheese at home. It all started with a craving for lasagne (so many good things do...) but we didn't have any ricotta or even cottage cheese to make a filling. What we did have: almost a half gallon of organic milk. OK, on to the InterWebs we went....

The ingredients for making fresh cheese are remarkably few: milk, salt, and some kind of acid, usually vinegar or lemon. There are many recipes out there for making paneer or ricotta cheese at home and many declare that they are easy to do. Then I came upon what was truly the easiest recipe of all... no thermometers necessary, no threats of pots boiling over, and best of all, no messy milk-scorched pots to clean afterwards. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, you're my hero! Mr. Lopez-Alt, an editor and master food deconstructionist at Serious Eats, writes at length and in engaging detail on Serious Eats' Food Lab about the making of whole milk ricotta cheese at home: the different types of acids that are commonly used (buttermilk, vinegar, lemon) and how each affects both the texture of the final product and the flavor, the temperature to which the milk must be brought, and draining times. His final conclusion, though, is that fresh cheese is best made in a microwave, not the stove top! Love it! Suddenly, cheese-making is a much less daunting task, and so at 5:15 yesterday morning, I started to make ricotta-style cheese in my own kitchen.

I tripled the whole-milk ricotta recipe on the Food Lab site (BTW the recipe link is separate from the article link) to use the full amount of milk we had — to make certain I had enough for my lasagne (let's not forget, this is why the quest began, right?). As promised, the methodology Mr. Lopez-Alt describes was incredibly straight-forward and easy. If I can do this, Folks, any one of you can too!


The set-up: milk in a non-metal bowl,
colander set in bowl, and lined
with 2 layers of food-safe paper towels,
sea salt, white vinegar



After 5 minutes in the microwave on High (right), you can just start to see chemistry in action. Pretty cool, right?
After tripling the time in the Food Lab recipe as well, the curds and whey have fully separated.


Drain mixture in colander.
Draining time will depend on
what you plan to do with the cheese
(see Food Lab article).


Voila! Real Cheese!
The final product, after 35 minutes of draining.
I started with 6 cups of whole milk and ended up with almost 1-1/2 cups of cheese.
The whole thing, from set-up to the end of draining was about an hour,
but your time will be less if you want a softer cheese.


As someone who had only tried commercial ricottas, the flavor of this cheese was a revelation to me: sweet and clean, no aftertaste or bitterness. It was firm (the long draining time) but tender to the bite, and smooth — not at all grainy or coarse. I would have happily eaten the whole thing just as it was, if that lasagne wasn't still calling...


Even though lasagne was the driving force behind this project, this post isn't about the pasta... It's to encourage everyone to make this cheese for themselves early in the New Year! Were not big milk-drinkers but we'll be buying our milk by the gallon from now on so we have plenty on hand to make this tasty treat again. Think of the possibilities: blintzes, crepes, stuffed shells, and of course, just plain eating out-of-spoon... or bowl... Yummmmm.... And yes, it did make a darn fine lasagne, even with a bottled sauce.

We're left with about a half-quart of liquid (whey), which seems a waste to throw out, so I'm looking now for ways to use that too. Stay tuned to this bat channel in 2011....

Until then, Happy New Year, Everyone!

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