Archive for Jun 2013

June 28, 2013 Summer Garden Salad


For me, summer time means easy, fresh & delicious meals that taste incredible.  Taste like summer, if you will.  But, as it’s also bathing suit season, I’d like it to be on the healthier side of the fence.  So, as I stared into my fridge earlier this week, considering what I might make myself for lunch, I was stumped.  Blah blah blah, boring, boring, boring.  Then I decided to chop whatever I had, put it in a bowl with some olive oil, and eat it.  And it was heaven.  So good, I’ve done the exact same thing every day this week.   Even my husband (who has an if-there’s-no-meat-it’s-not-a-meal mindset) loves it.   This guy will definitely be in the lunch rotation for the rest of the summer!

Really, you can throw in whatever you’d like and call it a day.  A few stone fruits, some berries, an apple, a cucumber, a tomato, an avocado… the fresher the better!  Whatever is taking up space in your fridge will likely be delicious!  Chop it all and throw it into a bowl with olive oil, salt & pepper.  I use a deliciously coarse fleur de sel and freshly cracked pepper.  It’s absolute perfection.
Garden Salad 0001 Summer Garden Salad

Basil Hazel is five today!  He’s getting old & lazy, everything we always thought our Basset Hound might be.   Sleeping until noon, hiding behind doors when I call him to go outside and lazily eating, until he spys a bit of human food just close enough to the end of the counter that he can grab, then you’d think he was a six month old weimaraner.  This boy completes our little family and I couldn’t love him more.

Happy Birthday my darling pup.  May this day be full of treats, naps and a nice long walk!
Basil Birthday 0001 Happy Birthday Basil Hazel!

I was beginning to think that the éclair was impossible in the United States.  Like bagels are just better in New York.  Maybe eclairs are just better left to the French.   And then I thought, no!   I’m better than that!  I will conquer these bad boys if it’s the last pastry I ever make!

I had a bit of extra time before I started dinner, and so I thought I’d see what I might do about this situation.  I didn’t even think all the way to the custard, or the ganache.  I knew these would probably be a disaster too, so no need to fill my belly with more substandard pastry.  I’d perfect the shells first.

And then something happened in that oven.  They started to rise.  And they puffed.  And they got ENORMOUS.  And then THEY DIDN’T FALL DOWN!  This process was all worth it because I think I have conquered this damn thing.   Of course, there’s always room to perfect them, but these are pretty close and I’m calling it a WIN!

I used the Ladurée: The Sweet Recipes book.  This book is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s got a velvet cover and gilded pages.  It comes in a beautiful box with perfect tissue paper.  It’s so lovely that I am afraid to use it… literally, I took pictures of the recipes and referenced my phone instead of the book for fear of a speck of dirt tarnishing it’s gorgeous pages. And if this recipe wasn’t absolutely perfect, this book would be completely useless.  The index is a joke.  The layout is a mess.  Recipes constantly reference other recipes without giving a page number or location.  A beautiful useless mess.  (But a lovely gift.  I gave this to Jess for her birthday last year and it makes us both so happy!)

So, here’s where I think I was going wrong.

1. When the choux pastry is finished cooking in the saucepan, cook it a minute longer.  And mix it with vigor (seriously, I have blisters on my hands.)  I think my previous batches were too wet and thus, too heavy.

2. Bake one sheet pan at a time, in the absolute MIDDLE of the oven.   I was baking two sheets at a time, cutting the oven in thirds.   No good.  Also, turned on the convection this time… worked nicely I think.

3. Immediately after baking, remove the pastries from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.  I always wait a minute because things are so hot… don’t.

With the perfect shells, filling them was so easy!   And they taste amazing.  Incredible.  Light & fluffy with a perfect custardy center and sweet chocolate topping.  Seriously, amazing.
Eclairs 3 0001 The Eclair Mission: Attempt 3, Third Times The Charm
Eclairs 3 0002 The Eclair Mission: Attempt 3, Third Times The Charm
Eclairs 3 0003 The Eclair Mission: Attempt 3, Third Times The Charm
Eclairs 3 0004 The Eclair Mission: Attempt 3, Third Times The Charm


Ladurée Choux Pastry

120 g Cake Flour
100 ml whole milk
100 ml water
10 g granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
80 g butter
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350.

Sift the flour.  In a saucepan, bring the milk, water, sugar, salt and butter to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Incorporate the sifted flour into the hot liquid, mixing energetically with a spatula until homogenous.  Return the saucepan to low heat and stir vigorously for 1 minute to pull out the moisture from the batter, so that it forms a mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and allow to cool.  Add the eggs one at a time, carefully incorporating each into the batter with a spatula.

When homogenous, transfer the dough to a piping bag, fitted with the 1/2 inch plain tip.  On a buttered baking sheet, pipe 5-inch strips.

Place in the oven and bake. After 8 to 10 minutes, when they have started to puff up, open the oven door very slightly, about 1/4 inch to allow steam to escape.  Bake the éclairs for approximately 30 minutes with the oven door slightly ajar, until golden. (You can slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven to keep ajar.)

Remove éclairs from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.


Dorie Greenspans Vanilla Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits, room temperature

Bring the milk to boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended.  Whisking without stop, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks – then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream.  Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (make sure to get the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil.  Keep at a boil – still whisking – for 1 to 2 minutes, then pull the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until the butter is fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky.  Scrape the cream into a bowl.  You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold, or, if you want to cool the custard quickly, put the bowl with the pastry cream into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.


Dorie Greenspans Ganache

3/4 cups heavy creme
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped.

Bring cream to a boil.  Pour the hot cream into a bowl, over the finely chopped chocolate.   Wait 30 seconds, then stir gently to blend.  Chill the ganache until it thickens enough for you to spread it smoothly over the éclairs.


When the pastries have cooled, the custard is chilled and the ganache is thickened, you can assemble!  Fill a pastry bag fitted with a pointed tip with a 1/2 cup of the pastry cream. Cut four small slices into the tops of the éclairs, then fill each hole with the pastry cream.  To finish, pour the ganache over each éclair, covered the holes and any pastry cream that might have escaped.  Flatten and spread the ganache with a spatula.

I like my éclairs cold, so I store them in the fridge.  Enjoy!

There are some drinks that are good all the time… no matter the season or occasion.   This is one of them.  I found it over on Real Simple a few years ago, and made it for our annual Christmas Eve Brunch.  I’ve made it for almost every get-together since then.  It works as equally wonderful for Christmas as it does for summertime in the backyard.  It’s just so good.   So so so good.

Backyard Cocktails 0004 Backyard Cocktails: Bourbon Sweet Tea
Backyard Cocktails 0005 Backyard Cocktails: Bourbon Sweet Tea


Bourbon Sweet Tea (from Real Simple)

2 tea bags (black or herbal)

2 tablespoons honey

4 plums or peaches (or whatever looks delicious and in season!)

8 springs fresh thyme

1/2 cup bourbon

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat, add the tea bags, and let steep for 10 minutes. Discard the bags and allow the tea to cool to room temperature.

Stir in the honey, plums, thyme and bourbon. Transfer to a mason jar and refrigerate until cool, about 1 1/2 hours.  Serve over ice.  Enjoy!

Oh, also I made this, this & this for noshing.  All healthy AND delicious!

51bE6SBNroL Flipping Pages: Ready Player One

Reading with Your Guy Edition: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Is there a man in your life? Does he love movies, video games and other dude stuff that dudes get into? Then, this book is for him. And it’s also for you. And it could be for your father/brother/dorky cousin-in-law. I’ve been shoving this in my husband’s face on a daily basis since I finished it. I feel like it’s something he’d enjoy way more than I did. And here’s why: it’s so much freaking fun.

I’m going to say something now, and you’re not gonna laugh at me. When I was little, my parents bought us a Nintendo system and my favorite game was Legend of Zelda. It was such an adventure…and you get to rescue a princess or something. (I’m not big on details when it comes to video games.) Opening this book felt very much like the very first time I played Zelda. Like the beginning of a great adventure.

It works like this: A Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-type guy called James Halliday created an online world called OASIS years before the story takes place. With the world’s economy in major depression, most people live the bulk of their lives inside of this virtual reality, even going to school and holding jobs there. When Halliday dies, it’s announced that he’ll leave his entire fortune to whoever is the first to solve a set of clues and challenges he’s hidden in the OASIS. Everyone in the world wants to be the winner, and we are lucky enough to tag along with Wade, a high school aged dreamer, as he sets out on a quest to be The One to solve it all and find Halliday’s hidden “easter egg”. Sounds fun, right? Throughout the book, you’ll find all sorts of references to 80′s pop culture: John Hughes movies, PAC Man, Dungeons and Dragons, Cap’n Crunch commercials, Rush songs. Half of them went way over my head. But the thing is, you don’t have to love that stuff to love this book. And if you do, then this is basically going to be your favorite book ever.

I got the feeling, while reading, that the author was giggling the whole time he wrote this book. The guy deserves a hug. So grab this book, or buy two copies, and read it with you man! Or get it for your dad for Father’s Day! Is your brother’s birthday around the corner? It’s in paperback! (That’s code for cheap. Not that the men in your lives don’t deserve the very best.)

Happy Reading,

I absolutely love entertaining. I love laughing with my friends, and eating good friend and sipping on a delicious cocktail.  But, I hate spending time in the kitchen while everyone else is relaxing. I hate spending too much time mixing cocktails when I would rather be sipping one. So, when some of my lady friends came over for an afternoon in the backyard I had an excellent idea.  Premixed cocktails in mason jars!
Seriously, why have I never done this before!?  I made five drinks at a time and stored them in the fridge in mason jars.  When it came time for a new round of drinks, everything was ready to go.  I just had to pour and add the finishing touches instead of removing myself from the conversation and spending 15 minutes in the kitchen while I missed all the good laughs.  It was perfection.   The only problem… it made it so easy to go through the drinks that we perhaps may have had a few more than necessary icon smile Backyard Cocktails: Refreshing Rose Sparkler

Backyard Cocktails 0001 Backyard Cocktails: Refreshing Rose Sparkler
Backyard Cocktails 0002 Backyard Cocktails: Refreshing Rose Sparkler
Backyard Cocktails 0003 Backyard Cocktails: Refreshing Rose Sparkler

This was my favorite of the options I’d made for this afternoon.  And I imagine it will be a go-to cocktail for the summer… it’s just perfect!  The Rose syrup is REAL sweet, but the flavor is just delicious… the bitters temper it pretty well.

Refreshing Rose Sparkler

(Makes 5 cocktails)

10 oz Gin (I like Hendricks for it’s rose & cucumber essence)

the juice of 4 limes

4 oz Monin’s Rose Syrup

5 springs mint (leaves removed and stalks discarded)

Bitters (5-8 splashes)

Diet Sprite

In a mason jar, combine the gin, lime juice, syrup, mint leaves & bitters.  Shake to combine and then store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Pour over ice into five glasses, then top with Diet Sprite to taste.   Enjoy!


This is another one of those books on my list from Jessica that is an absolute must read.  I haevn’t read it yet, but it’s on the list.  And after reading the review she just wrote, I’m already heartbroken for this little guy that I know very little about.  Must learn how to read more quickly…

wonder Flipping Pages: Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Oh, look, it’s another children’s book! What a treat! You guys, this book should be required reading for all humans. Basically, I feel like you shouldn’t be a certified human being until you’ve finished the last page of this sweet little gem. Because once you do, you see the world differently and you’ll always be a little bit kinder to everyone you meet. I seriously felt like the Grinch…my heart grew a minimum of two sizes once I’d finished.

The book is about a little boy named August who was born with severe facial deformities. For most of his childhood, he had to endure several corrective surgeries, so his parents home schooled him until the fourth grade. Now that his health is more stable, he’s finally able to attend a real school…and he’s terrified about what it’ll be like to come into contact with kids his age every day. The book chronicles his first year as a 5th grader. It’s such a lovely story of learning about empathy, kindness and compassion. You will root for August so hard, you will not want to put this page-turner down until you’ve seen him through…and then, you’ll be so sad to leave him behind once you’ve read the last page. (Have tissues on-hand.)

If you have kids who are a little older, maybe 4th-7th grade-ish, this would be a great book to read and discuss together. I’m thinking of having a couple of kids just so I can read this to them. Seems like a good enough reason to me!

Happy Reading,


So, we tried again, and we failed.  But if you take two failures of an éclair, sandwich them together, you kind of have one amazing éclair.   Éclair sandwich.

I followed the Dorie Greenspan recipe from Around My French Table, a gift from my beautiful friend Jessica.   This book is an incredible wealth of knowledge and it’s so pretty.  I love a beautiful cookbook icon smile The Éclair Mission: Attempt 2, And We Fall Again

This recipe is a bit more intricate than the previous attempt. Lots of differences in the way you actually bake: timing, temperatures, open vs. closed door, etc.  They came out fluffy, and then the caved upwards from the bottom… hollowed out from beneath!   I think perhaps it has something to do with the placement in the oven… too close to the heating coils perhaps.   And I just realized that they cooled on the baking pan…. perhaps if we removed them to a cooling rack right away they wouldn’t fall?  I also used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, thinking the extra gluten would help.  It didn’t.  Oh, and maybe cooking the dough for just a bit longer, it wouldn’t be as wet, therefore as heavy.   All kinds of things…

So, we try again.  And again.  I WILL make this damn thing work.
Eclairs2 0001 The Éclair Mission: Attempt 2, And We Fall Again
Eclairs2 0002 The Éclair Mission: Attempt 2, And We Fall Again

This is the Dorie Greenspan recipe verbatim.  We only changed out the all purpose flour for bread flour.

Vanilla Éclairs

… For the éclairs

.5 cup whole milk

.5 cup water

8 tablespoons unslated butter, cut into 4 pieces

1 tablespoon sugar

.5 teaspoon salt

1 cup all purpose flour

4 large eggs, at room temparture

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  Fit a large pastry bag with a large (2/3-inch-diameter) plain tip.

Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a rapid boil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat.  Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low and imeediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon or heavy whisk.  The dough will come together, and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan.  Keep stirring – with vigor – for another minute or two to dry out the dough.  The dough should be very smooth.

Turn the dough into the bowl of a  stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or into a bowl you can use to mix with a hnad mixer or a wooden spoon and elbow grease.  Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny.   Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next, and don’t be conerned if the dough falls part – by the time the last egg goes in, the dough will come together again.

Fill the pastry bag with half o fthe dough and pipe out strips of dough that are 4 to 4.5 inches long onto the first baking sheet; keep the strips about 2 inches apart so the eclairs will have room to puff.  Pipe the other half of the dough onto the second baking sheet.  (The eclairs can be frozen for up to 2 months.)

Bake the éclairs for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.  Continue baking for another 7 minutes, then wedge the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven door so it stay slighlty ajar, and bake for about 3 minutes more, or until the éclairs are golden, firm and puffed.  Transfer the éclairs to a rack and cool to room temperature.


The filling & ganache recipes are similar to the first éclair attempt, so you can see them here.   To assemble the sandwich, pipe the filling onto the bottom, put another éclair on top, then spoon the ganache on top of that.  Honstly, Dorie suggested cutting the éclair in half and piping the filling on top instead of putting it inside (which I prefer.)  If only I could get the damn things to puff!