Apricot and Blueberry Clafouti

Apricot & Blueberry Clafouti

Apricot and Blueberry Clafouti

Ever hear of a “clafouti?” Me neither, until about month ago when suddenly it seemed like that’s all anyone could talk about. I was intrigued by this strange sounding dessert so I looked it up in one of my go-to baking cookbooks, “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook.” And there it was, the clafouti, a French dessert traditionally made with sweet cherries that also works well with apricots, peaches, pears, plums, and more (the book advises against using raspberries).

And the best part was that the recipe looked simple. In fact, it was so simple I was ashamed I hadn’t made it before: toss some fruit in a casserole dish, whisk together a quick custard-like batter, pour it over the fruit and bake. Done.

Clafouti: dry and wet ingredients Clafouti: pour wet into dry Clafouti: mix batter well

Seriously, that’s all there is to it – chop, mix, pour and it’s in the oven in less than 10 minutes!

I used apricots and a smattering of blueberries, both of which I’d picked up at the farmer’s market the previous morning, and the combination was amazing! Clafouti is a fantastic and unfussy way to celebrate summer fruits: it’s sweet, decadent and has a smooth custard-like texture that will impress your guests.

Clafouti: sliced apricots Unbaked clafouti

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Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

I often get asked the question “why did you change careers to focus on food?” My answer is I love how food brings people together, that the need to eat is something we all have in common.

Cooking, however, is another thing entirely: I love to cook but for many people it’s a chore or something to be avoided like laundry (I apologize if you truly enjoy doing laundry). And cooking with other people? Well, let’s just say that’s icing, especially when it means I get to spend time with loved ones.

Tomato-Basil Sauce: season with basil, vinegar, sugar Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: serving

So when my sister called last week to ask if we (yes, she included herself) could cook dinner for our family on Sunday I was thrilled. The location would be at our parents’ house, a kitchen I know well. As for the food, her only request was for vegetable lasagna.

No problem! While I think we had different expectations for the meal (her: canned tomato sauce, eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash; me: homemade noodles and tomato-basil sauce, farmer’s market vegetables) the highlight for both of us was working together, although I think it helped that I got to be in charge. Basically, it’s what my friend Lori would call a “potchke” meal, meaning a bit fussy with a lot of steps, but in this case it was also a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: cooked noodles Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: arrange eggplant Roasted Vegetable Lasagna: arrange summer squashes

And the roasted vegetable lasagna? It was amazing! Light and fresh with layers of sweet and savory flavors and aromas, it practically melted in my mouth.

At my father’s request I used less sauce than usual and have to admit it worked really well to make the lasagna light and summery. The recipe for tomato-basil sauce was adapted from “Takashi’s Noodles,” by Takashi Yagihashi (I worked on the book) and makes just the right amount of sauce needed for this lasagna.

Here are the recipes for Tomato-Basil Sauce and Roasted Vegetable Lasagna:

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Breakfast for Dinner: Balsamic Fried Egg

Balsamic Fried Egg

Balsamic Fried Egg

Hmmm… the egg. I’ve never been much of an egg person; my interest has been mostly philosophical in the context of “what came first.”

While essential for baking, I don’t often eat eggs on their own as an omelet, scrambled, poached, sunny-side up, etc. That is until recently when I discovered the balsamic fried egg.

Balsamic Fried Egg: saute mushrooms Balsamic Fried Egg: egg

Surprisingly, I’ve actually begun to crave this creation: it’s simple, quick, savory and a little sweet, and goes well with whatever vegetable I’ve got in the fridge (so far I like mushrooms best). Plus it’s an inexpensive protein. I should point out that this is always made for dinner, never breakfast. Not really sure why though.

Balsamic Fried Egg: add balsamic vinegar Balsamic Fried Egg: stir in cooked mushrooms

Also, a good quality balsamic vinegar is a must! Look for one that has been aged 18 years.

The egg (er, end).

Here’s the recipe:

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Cherry Crumble: Pucker Up and Smile!

Cherry Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream

Cherry Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream

Do you know the difference between a crisp and a crumble? A crumble has oatmeal so it literally crumbles in your mouth while the butter in a crisp creates a “crispy” topping. True story.

I broke my own rule today. I hate when that happens but sometimes I just get caught up in the moment and then have to suffer the consequences. The rule was buying sour cherries with the intent to bake with them. I dealt with the consequences like the adult I am: suffering having to pit them, then attempting to destroy the evidence, a cherry crumble, by eating it.

Cherry crumble: sour cherries Cherry crumble: rinse cherries well Cherry crumble: remove seeds

Cherry crumble: halved and pitted cherries Cherry crumble: cherries mixture Cherry crumble: pour cherries into baking dish

Of course, there’s a story behind my cherry phobia. One of the sections during culinary school was on soups, stocks and sauces. The last day of the soup week focused on international soups and was intended to be fun. After a quick glance at the recipes I eagerly raised my hand and asked if I could make the cold cherry soup. The instructor chuckled and said “of course.” He never liked me. Seriously.

I spent the next three hours in the kitchen pitting 10 pounds of sweet cherries with a paring knife. Chef didn’t believe in gadgets so there was no cherry pitter to speed up the process.

Cherry crumble: topping ingredients Cherry crumble: topping mixed Cherry crumble: layers, unbaked

Three things came out of this: 1) my chef coat, apron and fingers were stained with so much bright red cherry juice that it looked like I’d come from a crime scene; 2) my classmate, Jonny, tried to help with a part of the recipe because I was running behind and wound up getting in trouble for doing it wrong (he still reminds me of this every time I see him); and 3) the cold cherry soup was the class favorite!

Despite the success of the soup, I made a rule never to cook or bake with fresh cherries again. Alas, I got caught in the moment at the farmer’s market Saturday morning when I saw one lone container of bright red sour cherries sitting on the Hillside Orchards table. In a moment of weakness I bought them, then had to quickly come up with something to make so I could bring it to that evening’s 4th of July BBQ. What I decided on was a delicious crumble with a juicy cherry filling that was both sweet and tart beneath a rich, crunchy top.

Cherry crumble: baked

Although it took a while to pit all the cherries (I think it’s easiest to slice them roughly in half using a paring knife, then pop out the seed), the sour cherries were surprisingly easier to pit and less messy than sweet cherries. The clear, bright, summery flavors and sheer deliciousness of the recipe has me rethinking my no-cherry policy, but only if they’re sour!

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Fava Bean Egg Salad

Fava Bean Egg Salad

Fava Bean Egg Salad

Fava beans are in season! While available dried or canned year-round, it’s a treat to find them fresh in long, thick pods. With a sweet and nutty taste similar to edamame (soy beans), favas work great in soups, with fish or lamb, and also with eggs.

That is why I thought fava beans would be a good addition to egg salad, a traditional side dish ideal for summer picnics. And what better time to make this special egg salad than for the 4th of July?

Fava bean egg salad: whole fava beans Fava bean egg salad: split fava bean pod Fava bean egg salad: blanching fava beans

Fava bean egg salad: removing inner shell Fava bean egg salad: shelled and blanched fava beans Fava bean egg salad: chopped fava beans

Fava bean egg salad has very few ingredients with one noticeable absence: mayonnaise. I decided it wasn’t necessary and a little olive oil would work just as well as a binder and be a bit healthier. I did use garlic chives, an herb that tastes just like it sounds: like garlic and chives. But you could easily substitute regular chives if that’s all that is available.

Fava bean egg salad: hardboiled egg Fava bean egg salad: garlic chives

Try looking for fava beans at your local farmer’s market. I buy mine from Nichols Farm’s booth at Chicago’s Green City Market. Garlic chives are also usually available at farmer’s markets and Asian grocery stores.

Did you know that fava beans are also called “broad beans” and “horse beans?”

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