Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Oatmeal Almond Blueberry Bars

On Mother's Day I was given a container of left over blueberries and blackberries as we said our goodbyes. A recent post I had seen on a rhubarb bar inspired me. What about a blueberry blackberry bar? I wanted more than a crumb topping though. I wanted something more like the granola bars I have been making. I wanted that flavor of toasted oats and slivered almonds to pair with the juicy berries. And I recently made a toasted coconut truffle and really enjoyed the toasted coconut flavor. Hmm - that wouldn't hurt either!

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 1/2 cups flour in a food processor and pulse briefly. Cut a stick of butter into thirds lengthwise , turn and cut again and then cut into slices to form pea sized squares of cold butter.

Add the butter and one egg to the food proceesor. Pulse in the food processor until the mixture is like bread crumbs. Pour into a prepared 8 inch square pan. Cover with a piece of was paper and press with your fingers or a small rolling pan to form a flat bottom.

Take 3 cups of fruit and toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons flour and a 1/4 cup sugar. Pour onto the crust.

Put 1/2 cups old fashioned oatmeal, 1/2 cup coconut and 1/2 cup slivered almonds on a foil lined pan in a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until slightly brown. Toss in a bowl with a 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 brown sugar and a 1/2 stick of melted butter. Stir to combine and pour on top of the fruit.

Cook for 35- 40  minutes in a 375 degree oven. If you serve it warm the berries will burst warm and liquid in your mouth but it won't cut itno nice slices until it is cooled.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Life Actualliy Is a Box Of Chocolates

Top: Fleur de Sel Caramel in dark chocolate, Left: Chai Infused Ganache, Right: dark chcolate, coconut, lemongrass ganache, dipped in white chocolate and rolled in toasted coconut

Lately my life is a box of chocolate. I am reading about chocolate, I am searching out chocolatiers at home and when I travel and I am making chocolate. If I need a reason it is because I am taking an online professional chocolatier course at Ecole Chocolat. If you know me at all, you know I have been making toffee and caramels for years. A few years back I took it up a notch by buying my own chocolate temperer (I’ll explain what that is later.) As part of the course, I spend a lot of time reading about chocolate, the origin of chocolate, how it can be grown only near the equator, how the beans have to be fermented, like wine, to develop that flavor we all love, and much more.

An important assignment in the class is to learn how to temper chocolate by hand. Most people don’t know it but chocolate is a fickle substance. There is a science and an art to getting chocolate to have that deep shine and snap when you bite it. Done incorrectly, chocolate never quite hardens or it develops clouds of gray “bloom” or can have a grainy texture when you bite it, not crisp with a clean audible break. The science in a nutshell has to do with melting the chocolate to a high temperature and then bringing it back to cool to a specific temperature. The key is to bring the temp to the two degree range it needs to stay at and keep it at that range while you work with it.
I have a hair dryer and a heating pad that are now covered in chocolate trying to keep that 2 degree perfect temperature. Tricky stuff. I don’t quite have it perfected yet but I got some really good batches of chocolate made this weekend using that and some other techniques I had never used before. Most took a couple days to complete and there is chocolate on the wall (hair dryer – don’t ask) but the home team agrees that they were all worth it.

The first is a Chai Tea dark chocolate ganache square. I infused heavy cream with an organic Marsala Chai Tea, made a dark chocolate ganache (fancy work for mixing chocolate and cream and a little butter) and then cut it into squares and dipped it by hand in more Vahlrona 63% dark chocolate.

The second kind I made is a real first for me – a molded chocolate. I filled my new triangle shaped molds with dark chocolate, emptied it to leave behind a chocolate shell and let it set, then filled the mold with a soft, white chocolate based sea salt caramel. It sat for a day to firm up and then I topped it with chocolate. A miracle occurred. They actually came out of the mold! All of them! Very exciting and fulfilling. The caramel stayed liquid and salty inside it little shell.

The last was a dark chocolate ganache infused with coconut, lemongrass and coconut rum, dipped in white chocolate and then rolled in freshly toasted coconut. I don’t think the lemongrass was fresh enough so I probably could have added more to infuse it. You don’t notice it.

The next assignment is to create some of my own flavors. So my life is a box of chocolate at least for the next few months. And if you are in the neighborhood stop by. We can only eat so many!


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Shaved Asparagus Salad

This is a perfect spring time recipe when the first asparagus appears at the farmer's market. For those of us that live in colder climates that time is now. My California friends have probably been eating home grown asparagus for months!

Shaved Asparagus Salad

Comforts Shaved Asparagus Salad has received cheers from its customers. It uses raw, thin sliced asparagus and if you’ve never tried raw asparagus, it can transform asparagus haters in a minute.

Serves four

12 large asparagus, with the tough ends snapped off
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled
½ cup dried tomatoes, julienned
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted lightly in a dry sauté pan
4 slices bacon, cut into ½ pieces and cooked crisp (optional)
8 cups loosely packed mixed Salad Greens, washed and dried
Champagne vinaigrette:
5 Tbsp. mild olive oil
2 ½ Tbsp. Champagne vinegar (or lemon juice)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. ea. salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tsp. honey

Make the dressing: Place all the dressing ingredients in a small covered jar and shake until combined or blend with a stick blender.

Lay three stalks of asparagus on a cutting board and slice as thinly as possible on the diagonal. Repeat with the remaining asparagus. Place the torn salad greens in a bowl and dress lightly with the vinaigrette, reserving some of the dressing for the asparagus. Divide the lettuce among four salad plates and top equally with the nuts, dried tomatoes, and bacon. Using the largest holes on a box grater, grate the hard boiled eggs over the salads, about a half egg per plate. Now add the asparagus to the bowl you tossed the greens in and dress lightly. Divide the asparagus on top of the four salads equally.

Have fun with this salad by adding your favorite chevre or feta cheese. Use a regular Spring Mix salad blend, all frisee or no lettuce at all. Replace the pine nuts with toasted pecans or even candied walnuts. Serve over a bed of thinly sliced tomatoes when they come into season instead of dried tomatoes. Instead of a hard boiled egg, serve a poached egg on top. The possibilities are endless!

This recipe is courtesy of Glenn Miwa. It is one of the many I am testing for a Comforts cook book.