I like relatively unstructured summers. Even though I’m no longer in school or have anyone in my family in school, my whole frame of mind changes when Memorial Day arrives. Summer feels like a lazier time than the rest of the year.
I wait all year for August, a solid month of perfect tomatoes. Meal preparation becomes conflicting. I’m torn between the simplicity of enjoying the tomatoes sliced and raw and the desire to transform them into something more. Caprese salad, Panzanella, tomato tarts of many forms, sauce, salsa. The list goes on and on.
Insert into my tomato frenzy, recipes for Cook the Book Fridays. I’ll be honest that I haven’t been inspired. I did cook the two recipes selected so far for August, but in the heat of the dog day afternoons, sitting at the computer is not high on my list of activities. I’d rather be gardening or playing with tomatoes. This afternoon is rainy, so I’ve managed to sit myself in my chair and start to write.
The first assignment for August was Stuffed Vegetables. David Lebovitz suggested stuffing zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. Given that Howard doesn’t eat zucchini or eggplant, and even if I were filling a tomato, that filling contained the dreaded zucchini and eggplant, I had to get creative. Actually I wasn’t that creative. My solution was to scale back and stuff one zucchini just for me. The filling was delicious! Ground beef was extended with diced zucchini, eggplant and tomato along sautéed onion and garlic and lots of herbs. An egg binds the mixture together. I filled both halves of a single zucchini for two satisfying lunches for myself. The filling would be delicious in stuffed pepper, though I’d have to keep quiet about the full list of ingredients…
The second recipe assigned in August was Kirsch Babas with Pineapple Cherries. Howard wasn’t excited about this one. I wasn’t either. Despite the tropical fruit, babas seemed much more like a winter dessert. And what’s a baba anyway? It’s an eggy yeasty cake doused in alcoholic syrup. See, doesn’t that sound like something you’d enjoy around the holidays?
Knowing I was the only eater, I halved the recipe. What I set aside for the first rise was much more like batter than dough. I didn’t know if that was a result of halving the recipe or some other mistake. It did rise, and once the softened butter was whipped in, it miraculously transformed into a soft, sticky dough. The little cakes rose again, quickly (less than an hour). My kitchen in the summer is a very warm place.
The finished cakes are soaked in a light simple syrup spiked with alcohol. In my case, it was a mixture of kirsch and rum (I ran out of kirsch). I’ve never soaked cakes in this way before. They were like edible sponges.
These babas were meant to be accompanied by sautéed pineapple, however, the kirsch (cherry brandy) inspired me to substitute cherries that I already had on hand. In the end, I thought the babas were interesting though unremarkable and certainly more work than they were worth, even if it had been winter.
If either of these recipes interest you, they can be found in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. Stuffed Vegetables is on page 160 and the Babas on page 279. Follow the respective links for my friends’ impressions of Stuffed Vegetables or Kirsch Babas.
And for those of you I’m not connected with on Facebook, I want to share the sad news that on the last day of July, we said an unexpected farewell to our beloved dog Bella. Her distinct personality filled our life with love and joy and, of course, exercise. In our grief, I know that she adored us as much as we did her (though maybe she preferred Howard more than me), and her life, at least since we rescued her 9 years ago, was a good one.
Crème brûlée is one of my favorite desserts to order in a restaurant. I find the contrast between the creamy custard and the melted sugar crust a pleasing way to end a meal. The only other time I’ve made crème brûlée at home was about 5 years ago for French Fridays with Dorie. When this week’s recipe challenge for Cook the Book Fridays was another version of crème brûlée, this time infused with coffee flavors, I was ready to try it again.
The custard is relatively easy to put together. The milk, cream and sugar are warmed together, then whisked into egg yolks. The mixture is flavored with instant espresso powder and coffee-flavored liqueur. I used an ANCIENT bottle of Tia Maria that my mother gave me when she cleaned out her liquor cabinet over 30 years ago. Alcohol must be quite the preservative because I tasted it first and it still tasted like coffee liqueur.
You don’t even have to thicken it on the stovetop, worrying about clumping or burning. Crème brûlée is gently cooked in a water bath in the oven until set. Mine took almost an hour to get to that point, possibly because I used small ramekins instead of lower gratin dishes, but I wasn’t in any hurry.
The custards wait in the refrigerator until it’s time for dessert. I sprinkled a heavy layer of sugar on top of each bowl, then I put Howard in charge of the mini-blowtorch. He seemed to enjoy melting the sugar until it was slightly golden. After all that bubbling, it’s surprising how quickly the topping hardens.
After my first experience, I think one reason this elegant yet easy treat didn’t make it into my repertoire is that Howard insisted this wasn’t a dessert he enjoyed. With this latest version, I convinced him that it was like coffee ice cream, which he does like. He was a sport and tried it. I think he surprised himself when he liked it. I filled 6 ramekins, so we shared the leftovers with my in-laws when they visited this weekend. They liked coffee crème brûlée too! Maybe we will be making this again, at least the coffee version.
I used the egg whites to make this impressive (and more difficult) dessert, an almond macaroon torte with chocolate frosting from Smitten Kitchen.
If you’d like to give coffee crème brûlée a try, you can find the recipe here on Leite’s Culinaria or on page 253 in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. To see how the other bloggers from Cook the Book Fridays made out, follow the links to their results here.