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Posts Tagged ‘Grand Marnier’

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Baking is not the terrifying thing people make it out to be. Truly, this week you dealt with health insurance, nursed a cold, got rear-ended on a major highway, and had your umbrella blow inside out twice.* After that, putting one’s hands in flour and chopping chocolate is a proven way to set everything to rights, to regain control and start over. And it soothes like nothing else right now, during what can be the coldest month of the year.**

I actually made two soda breads this month. Every March I dream of what soda bread riff I want to do. This year I added blood orange juice and zest, cloves, cinnamon, 65% cacao chocolate chunks, a dose of Grand Marnier, and instead of cow’s milk yogurt I think I used goat’s. The juice added to the yogurt made the dough faintly pink, which I thought was hilarious, and was sorry to see the color kind of fade in the oven. But it was a winner. That’s it above. I pulled pieces off and munched on them warm.

Then for my sister’s birthday I made another soda bread and added unsweetened coconut flakes, 72% cacao chocolate, and a few glugs of Malibu. It was basically a boozy Mounds bar tucked inside some bread. An unorthodox birthday cake. She was a fan.

Today I made a pizza I’ve been wanting to recreate since 2008, when I visited Mo’orea, an island off Tahiti. The shack on the side of the road is called Allo Pizza. Mo’orean locals are generally French speakers and French food eaters with a healthy hunger for fish and their lovely tropical produce. It’s not a combination that calls to mind pizza, but there it was. I wasn’t a food writer then, not officially, but I kept a journal that documented what we did and what we ate; and praise Jesus, or I wouldn’t remember the toppings on this pie: fresh tuna (they call it ‘lagoon fish,’ caught across the street), capers, anchovies, Parmesan, garlic, and herbes de Provence. It’s an unlikely combination, but so was being halfway around the world and eating on the street while dodging guys doing wheelies on mopeds. We did notice that no one wore gloves while handling the toppings, and that there was no refrigeration for the fish. So only we ate there for lunch, as soon as it opened. And just the same, we waited to get sick, but it never happened.

The tuna below was not caught across the street but caught from behind the counter at Whole Foods, a reasonable substitute. It was great fun to make, warming and delicious, wheelies or no wheelies.

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*Yep , right here.
**Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pa used to say, ‘When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.’ I can never remember when I parked at Target, but this I remember.

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Fall is such an evocative season. Since it happens to be fall, and you caught me mid-evoke, let’s expound on that.

Last week I was walking by the realtors’ office downtown, housed in a 100+ year-old building, and their door was open. The scent coming out of the office was one I haven’t smelled in 30 years: it brought me back to my aunts’ and uncle’s immaculately-kept house. Quite inexplicably. And awesomely.

Then there was the time I heard Mario Batali on TV rhapsodizing about marjoram, an herb not used in my house growing up, nor in my own as an adult. I bought a jar of it, opened it, and time-travelled again: I was a toddler, it was 1973, and I was looking at a storybook that featured a bunny and scratch and sniff panels, one of which must have featured marjoram.

I never saw that coming. I hadn’t even remembered that book until I smelled that herb. Curious as to why the author included it; what an unusual choice. Again, though, not complaining. It was incredibly cool.

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The smell of

…Grand Marnier will always and forever remind me of the copiously-spiked whipped cream my dad used to make.

…hot French fries and salt air means home.

…yeast means Easter bread. (I talk about this adventure a lot. Like a whole lot.)

…balsam brings me back to the living room of one of my childhood best friends.

…cinnamon means many things, but topping that list is my mom’s sour cream coffee cake. It won an honorable mention at the county fair one year; the judges’ only real quibble was that they wanted more of the gooey filling inside. (I have since, and wisely, doubled the filling. I know you’re all relieved to hear.) The picture above totally doesn’t do it justice because I don’t have a Bundt pan, which I’ll admit is egregious.

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Where do smells take you?

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These days sleep is at a premium, and mornings are more hectic than ever. All the more reason to give in when the spirit, and appetite, cry out for the familiar, the homey, and the soothing.

The French call this recipe a clafouti, but don’t let it intimidate you (as anything with a Gallic slant can, and has, for so many of us ordinary home cooks). It’s just a custard with stewed fruit added. In France it’s usually made with cherries* and is technically a dessert, served warm, but I love it for breakfast. The eggs in it add a great punch of protein, which we can all use in the morning, no matter who we are or what’s on the docket for the day.

The clafouti is a staple in my house because it’s so delicious, so versatile, and so quick to throw together—you can take it from ingredients in the fridge to a pan in the oven in about half an hour. Kids don’t tend to argue with anything that’s sweet, creamy and fruity, either.

You can make it with any single fruit, really, or combine a few. Two of my favorite combinations are pineapples and mangoes with rum and apples and pears with apple brandy. Don’t worry about the alcohol; most of it burns off, leaving the custard with just a delicate fragrance.

After Hurricane Irene slammed us at the Jersey Shore, many of us lost power for days and with it, much of what we’d stashed for the winter in the freezer. I had picked mulberries from local trees in June and gorgeous organic blueberries in July. Berries are fragile—they take well to freezing once, but not twice—so I combined them for this. It was lovely, mellowly sweet.**

Take out an 8×8″ brownie pan and grease very well with canola oil or butter. In a medium bowl, combine 3 eggs, 1 c milk (any kind) or cream, 2/3 c all-purpose flour, a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, and 1 tsp pure vanilla extract. I use a 2 c glass liquid measuring jug as my bowl and then stir with a fork. Easier.

Take out a wide, flat skillet, put it on medium heat, add another pat of butter, let it melt a bit, then add your fruit. Any kind will do, about 4 c total. Put in 1/2 c sugar or honey and stir. If you’re using fall or winter fruits like pears, apples, or cranberries, brown sugar is awesome. Add a little booze, maybe a 1/4 c, or more if you’re feeding adults who are cranky in the mornings. Grand Marnier is an orange liqueur and is wonderful with most fruits; tropical fruits take well to their neighbor, rum; Amaretto, an almond liqueur, pairs well with any fruit in its family, like peaches, nectarines or apricots. Or just add extra vanilla extract, which is just vanilla steeped in alcohol. It’s kind of fun messing around with different combinations.

Cook the fruit until it’s a little soft and it’s hot, then pour it into your pan. Give the egg mixture one more quick stir, then pour that over the fruit. If you want, top the whole shebang with a little bit of cinnamon sugar—that’s maybe 1/4 c sugar mixed with 1-2 tsp cinnamon.

Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil (to catch any spillage). Bake in a 375 oven for 20 minutes if you want your clafouti soft and a bit loose, up to 30 minutes if you like it set.

I shot the clafouti photo above in a beautiful little milk glass bowl, but that’s false advertising. My favorite way to eat it is as the heathen I am, with a spoon and the entire pan in front of me. No, I don’t eat the whole thing. But Lord knows I could. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve come close.

*with the stones left in them. The French think they lend flavor to the dish. At least that’s what they say, and I’ve decided to believe them. I’d hate to think a nation that produced a smile button like Jacques Torres would be malicious at heart.

**It’s fun to say mellowly.

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