Thursday, May 26, 2011

Strawberry Tartlets...and Strawberry Fields Forever

Note:  I've been nominated for Babble's 100 Top Food Blogs!  I have 13 more votes to get into the top 50.  If you like what I've done here, would you follow the side link to Babble and vote for me?  I am on page #2 "Snippets of Thyme"

It wasn't long after we moved to Texas that I began to hear about "Froberg Strawberry Farm".  As spring began to slip into summer, at the mere mention of strawberries or blackberries, this farm, southwest of Houston, Texas would spring into conversation.  

Going to Froberg Farm was like stepping back in time and catching a glimpse of what true farmer's markets were like.  Strawberries are just one of their highlights.  This farm rotates fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year.  

The drive out into the country was soothing and quiet - just what I craved  that day.  What fresh produce would I find?  What kinds of dishes would I make?  What in the world is "Mayhaw Jelly"? Go here and you can learn about it. Snippet:  It is a very southern plant that was collected in the springtime to make into jelly.  

Only a few rickety signs guide you to this reputable farm.  I love that.  Simple.  Unpretentious.  As I crossed over a long lonely stretch of train tracks, my car crunched over the little gravel road winding its way up to the farm.

An old rickety screen door creaked open and I felt transported to some other time.  The produce looked amazing.  I wanted to capture some photos.  Fruits and vegetables are so beautiful to photograph, but I couldn't wait to fill my baskets with some of what I was seeing.  An apple tart?    I should make that.  No wait, look at that jar of fig preserves.  Figs are a childhood favorite of mine.

Look at the fresh sugar snap peas and the just-cut asparagus.  They looked like they had just been brought in and spilled into the many wooden bins inside Froberg that morning.  

This sweet little tot was so cute holding her huge strawberry.  She was dressed in a bright little outfit that had strawberries all over it.  

Strawberries.  I was definitely stuck on strawberries.  I wanted to make something with strawberries.  

I scooped up pails of strawberries dreaming of many different recipes I could make, when one of the farm workers asked if I had seen the blackberry fields outside.  

Blackberries?  Fields of blackberries?  I had to take a peek.  People aren't really allowed in the blackberry patches but she said it was o.k.  They would be picking some that afternoon for sale the next day.  

I walked way out to the blackberry fields and could tell this was going to be a treat.  The fields were nothing short of delightful...magical even.  It was morning and no one was outside.  I felt like I was transported back to France where I would beseech my husband to stop randomly along a country road so I could roam up and down the grape vineyards.  He just shakes his head but smiles obligingly, knowing my quirky ways.

Blackberries are beautiful growing on their dainty vines, plump and juicy.  The deep dusky purple contrasts so playfully with the pop of bright pink blackberries yet to ripen.  The winding green leaves fluttered and swayed in the breeze and little flowers that were tucked here and there seemed to finish off this captivating scene.

I went to a very southern school in the deep countryside of Louisiana.  Our religion teacher, Sr. Smith, would look at us at the beginning of class, close her book and say "Go out girls! Go run, go be free, that is my religious teaching for today!".  We would scramble outside lickety-split, eager for every precious minute of being outdoors.  

Often, we went straight to the blackberry brambles if it was springtime.  Our skirts became the bowls and they filled up with this delicious fruit.  We would run to the cafeteria, holding those skirts, to get little bowls, dump sprinkle sugar onto the blackberries, smash them up into the sugar, and taste a little bit of heaven.  Sr. Smith knew what she was doing.  She was teaching us to live freely and enjoy nature first-hand, not read about it in books.

After wandering slowly and admiring the vast blackberry patch, my quiet reverie was abruptly interrupted.  This huge bright red train came barreling down the tracks right in front of the farm!  The ground shook and  the blackberry vines swayed more as the clickety-clack got louder and louder.  The scene was jarring but it  just seemed to fit somehow into this country landscape.  I thought of all of the little boys and girls who would think this a terrific sight while munching on their juicy strawberries and blackberries.  

The train disappeared with a huff and a whistle and the air and ground settled right back to its peaceful aura.  

I noticed this huge, rambling tree stretching its ancient limbs almost to the ground.  An old battered tire with the worn out letters of "Froberg" were painted on its side.  How long has that tire been laying there?  

Strawberries.  They were still on my mind.  It was getting warm and my car was scented with all of my fruity baskets.  I saw some adorable little tartlets on the popular food blog Cannelle et Vanille the other day.  There was a photo of her sweet little girl delighting in her own little tartlet.  Each time we have travelled to Europe, my  kids point first to the petite individual tartlets in the patisserie windows.  I'll give it a try - strawberry tartlets.

The filling Aran (of Cannelle et Vanille) used is called frangipane.  It is made with ground almond flour.  We were truly delighted with this light and sweet flavor and texture.  I baked some strawberries on top of the tartlets but then added more slices after they cooled because they were more vibrant and fresh-looking.

What a wonderful morning I spent wandering those enchanting blackberry fields.   The breeze was cool, the mood was relaxed...the entire farm seemed to be snuggled in the countryside truly lost in the past.  Lost?  No, not lost.  It seems perennial...waiting to be found by others; to give others the pleasure it gave me that spring morning.

Strawberry and Almond Tartlets
Makes 6 3-inch tartlets
 Pie crust of your choice
½ cup (110 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup (110 g) natural cane sugar
1 egg
½ tsp almond extract
1 cup (110 g) almond flour
1 Tbs (10 g) tapioca starch
¼ tsp salt
2 cups sliced strawberries

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment until light. Add the egg and almond extract and mix until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix.

Roll out the pie dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut 6 4-inch disks and fill tart molds with them. Cut off excess dough.

Fill the tart molds with frangipane and arrange the sliced strawberries on top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until crust golden. (Snippets notes:  I added more fresh strawberry slices on top after they came out of the oven just because it looked so pretty!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Les Madeleines and all things classic

Note:  I've been nominated for Babble's 100 Top Food Blogs!  I have 19 more votes to get into the top 50.  If you like what I've done here, would you follow the side link to Babble and vote for me?  I am on page #2 "Snippets of Thyme"

The last Literature Club get-together this year for my daughter.  What fun these teen girls have meeting together, discussing wonderful literature and snacking on little cakes and cookies.  Each month, one of the group hosts a literature club based on the classics.   Jane Austin's collection of wonderful masterpieces are popular choices for this group.  You could pick up any one of these girls and transport them to that era and they would fit right in.  I wanted to send my daughter, whose name is Madeleine, with  sweets that seemed fitting for something that might be eaten during the time of Emma or Pride and Prejudice.

It was an easy decision..hint, hint...Les Madeleine cakes.  These are so versatile and delicious for events like a Literature Club.  They aren't really cookies and they are too small to be considered cakes.  The daintiness of the graceful shell pattern make them a quaint little party food.  

The good thing about these delectable little cakes it that they are a snap to make.  I have a non-stick Madeleine mold and these cakes cook nice and fluffy  then slide easily out of the pan. My daughter just likes them plain but I have seen fruit dips that can be set in a bowl for dipping these cakes.  I have also seen chocolate dipped Madeleines that add more richness making them more of a dessert than a snack.

Since it was a Literature Club get-together, we thought packing these nicely in one of our "book boxes" would be a whimsical idea.  

We lined the "book box" with a pretty napkin, arranged the Madeleine cakes snugly inside and off she went to spend a wonderful evening with her girlfriends.  Often, after discussing the literature they watch the movie version of the book.  Beautiful scenes of dancing and parties are typically a part of any Jane Austen novel.  How different society is today than when young Jane fretted over her future.

Les Madeleine cakes are such a  classic sweet to accompany these great works of literature.  They were discussing themes for next year and have chosen classic "fairy tale" novels and how they have changed in their modern interpretations.  I just might have to read along the sidelines too... perhaps with a few Madeleines to keep me company.

So many books, so little time...

Les Madeleine Cakes/Cookies:
Prep Time:  20 minutes
Baking Time:  10-15  minutes

3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
Beat the eggs with the sugar, vanilla and half of the milk until thick and light yellow. Add the flour and baking powder bit by bit and continue mixing until smooth. Stir in the rest of the milk and the melted butter.

Carefully grease your madeleine tray if necessary. Spoon about two tablespoons of batter into each mold. Bake for 15 minutes at 375°F. Cool on a rack.

Makes 24 madeleines.

You could flavor your madeleines with different things, perhaps orange or lemon zest. A dusting of powdered sugar would look nice as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dumplings: like little Humpty-Dumptys

Note:  I've been nominated for Babble's 100 Top Food Blogs!  I have 21 more votes to get into the top 50.  If you like what I've done here, would you follow the side link to Babble and vote for me?  I am on page #2 "Snippets of Thyme"

It's always fun to bake cookies with your kids. However, when you have teenagers, the sands of tradition shift somewhat.  Somewhat? O.K., they shift greatly.  Would  teen parents agree?  So many good changes come with having teens in the house like "Sweetheart, can you run to the store for milk and eggs?"  

They are  wanting to feel independent.  They crave traditions but want to break free at the same time.  I thought I would lure one of my kids into the kitchen by proposing we make something that seems exotic and foreign to our table.  

It worked.  I had a great afternoon making one of my daughter's favorite foods - dumplings.

We love all types of Asian foods.  I do, however, feel intimidated to recreate these dishes in my kitchen. I saw these dumplings on a food blog that I admire, Almost Bourdain, and decided this will be our first foray into Asian cooking.

Ginger root, like my beloved vanilla bean, is becoming another scent that tickles and delights my nose.  Fresh ginger is now a must in my kitchen.  I always fretted about buying a ginger root and then not using all of it and throwing it away.  I learned recently that you can freeze ginger and use more of it as needed.  Cool.

The filling was a combination of pork and shrimp.  This was an unusual pairing for us but these little bundles have a delicious flavor.  Making the petite dumplings was a good pick to do with my daughter. At this point, making cookies can seem a bit childish.  The dumplings have all of the "cuteness" factor of cookies but look exotic, foreign, and sophisticated for a teen.

Folding them was so easy and fun!  We giggled over the little pillow bundles that piled up.  We reminisced about when we lived in Japan.  So many times we gathered with our Japanese friends and made all sorts of origami flowers, birds, and shapes.  

Folding the little dumpling wrappers around the filling seemed daunting at first.  We carefully followed the step-by-step directions that Almost Bourdain included in her blog post.  After the first few awkward looking dumplings, we clipped along watching them pile up ready to be boiled.

This could become a new tradition in our house.  Dumplings are quick and easy to make but most of all, they are fun to assemble!  They could easily be made ahead of time and just pulled out ready to boil when guests arrive.  

Szechuan Red Oil Wonton  Recipe
Makes 24 (Serves 6)
24 wonton wrappers
2 tbsp chopped spring onions
Wonton fillings:
150 g pork mince (or 75 g pork mince and 75 g chopped or minced prawns)
1 tbsp chopped spring onions
1/2 egg, lightly beaten
1.2 tsp grated ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp Shaoxing wine
Dash of white pepper
Dipping Sauce:
3 tbsp Szechuan chilli oil
2 tsp minced garlic
5 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinkiang black rice vinegar (Snippet's Notes:  I couldn't find this "black" variety so I used regular rice vinegar and they tasted good)
1/2 tsp ground Szechuan pepper
1 tsp castor sugar

To Make Wonton Filling:
Mix all ingredients until well combined.

To Cook Wontons:
Heat a big pan of water until it's boiling. Drop a few wontons at a time and cook for 3-4 minutes until the filling is cooked (Dumpling will surface and float on top of the boiling water). Remove and set aside to keep warm. Repeat until all wontons are cooked.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Houston's International Festival Rocks!


The International Festival of Houston, titled "The Silk Road", was an amazing amalgam of cultures, food, music, and dance.  I don't know that I have ever attended  a festival that dazzled the senses,  oozed hopeful thoughts,  and poured out a sense of global unity at every venue.  

With the world in a current state of unrest, intolerance, distrust, and fragileness, this festival checked all that negativity in at the entrance. Harmony, joy, and celebration of life was replaced in spades as families and couples mingled elbow to elbow in celebration of the beauty of life, food, family, and fun.

This festival was hot.  The food was hot.  The entertainment was hot...but...the temperature was really HOT.  Temperatures soared into the mid-90's for this huge event.  We braced ourselves for a sizzling day but I didn't see anyone daunted by this sultry air or searing sun.  The mood was alive, jazzed, and festive.

The first incredible smells that affronted us were the barbecued skewers of chicken.  Not only did they look sticky and caramelized but they lured us right over with the  crackling and hissing of the huge barbecue grills.  Would it be wrong to take 10 steps into the festival and make a foodie purchase that soon?  

Quickly, we were diverted by the booming and thumping of loud drums a little further ahead.  An amazing, talented, and stunning troupe of Chinese dancers were flipping, spinning, and stretching their limbs in impossible ways.  

Between the grills smoking at every turn and the sounds of music coming from about three different directions, I was a jangle of excitement and anticipation.  Mom with a camera and a fervent desire to capture all of this beauty.  I love this city!

If world harmony could be bottled up, the International Festival in Houston would be the laboratory site for assembly of a harmonious mixture that would be sure to impress even the United Nations right now.

The food, the glorious food!  Honestly, every stall had amazing looking food.  We sampled soft tacos that were superb, sweet french crèpes, aromatic Greek gyros, and crunchy Indian samosas. 

You could literally walk through the festival as if walking along the silk road of the ancient times.  Between the music venues, food selections, and dance troupes,  families could begin their journey in Africa or Europe, cross over the Mediterranean into Turkey, journey to the Middle East, be dazzled in China, intrigued by Russia, and then slide down into mystical India.

There were the festival souvenir types of trinkets for the kiddos but prominently displayed in abundance were true artisan discoveries.  Carved wooden masks from Africa, round ceramic gas lamps from Morocco, brightly painted nesting dolls from Russia, and wiggly squiggly carved snakes from Africa were just some of the eye-catching crafts that caught my eye.

I am a total people-watching person.  Often in restaurants, someone at another table catches my eye and I lose myself in unraveling their world coming up with scenarios that I have no idea are accurate.  

Partly entranced by the talented performers on stage, I nevertheless, continuously diverted my attention to the many colors, various dress, and assorted languages of so many people sitting on the lawns enjoying the entertainment.  Families huddled together in the shade of the trees, relaxed and enjoying their time together.  Children ran around dancing and playing with other children innocently unaware of any difference is appearance, just a yearning for playful fun.  

Amazing it was, indeed.  Simply Amazing.

A blue fizzy drink flew past me, smoky dry ice billowing out of the neon blue plastic cup.  What was this?  I have no idea.  What country is it representing?  I have no idea.  Next time, I am going to be brazen (my family would chortle at this scene and be completely unsurprised) and chase after that drink owner to find out what in the world was that!  How should I google this?  Smoky, neon blue festival drink?  Icy, frothy, gazzy liquid festival libation?

Look at the ingredients on this huge savory crèpe how fresh.  The smell was divine and it competed with the heavenly sweet crèpes being smoothed and flipped on the adjacent burner.  

I wonder how many cultures were wandering around enjoying the festivities?  Disney World has Epcot Center but this was the real deal.  The food was authentic, the people were fascinating, and the experience of it all together in one amazing venue was deep and heartfelt.

The Greek gyros smelled amazing.  Truly amazing.  I have a weakness for gyros and falafels and if I weren't bursting with emotions trying to capture the vivid scenes dancing before my hungry eyes, that would have been my foodie pick.  I do regret not sinking my teeth into one of those gyros!

The french crèpe maker was studiously at task.  The crèpes were beautiful and watching him deftly pour and smooth the batter reminded me of our incredible time in France last fall.  These girls (right) were giggling and smiling as they passed me by.  They were having so much fun that I had to break in and ask for their picture.  I was going to try for a loose carefree photo but they excitedly arranged themselves in this adorable pose and were thrilled to have their picture taken.  I would love to have been a  little birdie and followed them along catching glimpses of their laughter and amusements.

Attending this festival just makes me curious to continue uncovering more of Houston's incredible offerings.  Being the fourth largest city in the U.S. brings in a diversity of cultures and traditions that spill into venues like this one and showcase the many faces of this vast city.  Good job Houston!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grilled Double-Cut Pork Chops with Rhubarb Mostarda


Note:  I've been nominated for Babble's 100 Top Food Blogs!  I have 30 more votes to get into the top 50.  If you like what I've done here, would you follow the side link to Babble and vote for me?  I am on page #2 "Snippets of Thyme"

{Thank you to FoodBuzz for choosing this article for today's Top9 FoodBuzz!!}

I remember as if it were yesterday the day my husband bought his first brand new car.  Little did I realize at the time, what a monumental day that was for him.  You see, now that we have been married 20 years, I understand more about this guy than I did all those years ago.  I understand how truly and incredibly hard he works for the very few items he desires.

We were so young when we married.  We were engaged our senior year of college and planned to marry the summer after our college graduations.  My graduation was the day before his ceremony.  The plan was for me to fly out of NYC to St. Louis and attend his graduation the next day.  We were young, in love, and the world was our oyster.

He said he had a surprise.

When he met me at the airport, the look on his face was pure rapture.  No, this time it wasn't because he laid his eyes on me.  He had worked hard on a full scholarship for an engineering degree.  He had a diploma in hand.  And, he had a wonderful job offer waiting for him.   I had an inkling what this surprise would be but I played along.

I had graduated from college the day before, tearfully said farewell to my beloved NYC,  a wedding to plan, a new job position to begin, and a new move way up to Michigan to anticipate. 

As we held hands and walked into the parking garage for the first time as a real couple about to be married, he stopped and looked at me with the happiest grin I have ever seen on his face.  A brand new red car was sitting proudly in its parking space.  I'll never forget that day.  

Over the 20 years that I have been married to this man, he has owned 3 cars.  Each one of them has been taken care of with utmost tenderness and respect.  I can honestly say, I have never known someone to work as hard as my husband.  He takes care of his car as he takes care of his family, with pure devotion.  Without fail, he is up early, off to work, day after day with seldom a complaint about his job.

Other than his love for beautiful cars, there are hardly any other material items that he desires.  He did want an ice cream maker last year but I think he was just trying to come up with an idea for us.  

One thing I can think of that makes him happy is a nice barbecue.  Well, it's indeed that barbecue time of year.  I was  so pleased with that flap steak soft taco dish the other day, I decided it was again time to open up my new cookbook The Cook and the Butcher by Brigit Binns.

I also really fell in love with rhubarb this year after making Martha Stewart Living's Poached Rhubarb with Elderflower Sabayon this spring.  One of the pork chop recipes in my new cookbook uses rhubarb as a savory side to these smoky chops.  It is called a rhubarb mostarda.

Again, a hit from this cookbook!  And, I'll let you know when I cook something that isn't a hit.  (I have a recipe I will post next week that was NOT a hit, hint, hint).  However, this pork chop dish is amazing.  Another recipe with rhubarb to celebrate this wonderful stalky pink celery looking plant.

Not only are the pork chops a wonderful barbecue treat but paired with this incredibly deep red and fragrant side relish was a dish that I will no doubt make again and again.  It was a 4 thumbs up for all of us.

Recently, I looked at my husband and I told is time.  It is time to make one of his wishes come true.  My husband is a person with few materialistic possessions or desires for possessions.  I probably make 99.9% of the purchasing decisions for our family and he is very content with that.

I told him.  It is time.  Go and live a dream.

And you know what?  He did.

And I am so happy.

It isn't flashy red like his first car years ago.  It is a more mature smoky grey.  I am so happy.

Because he is the best man in this world.  

So here's a great barbecue Sunday dinner.  And a little something else...

 Grilled Double-Cut Pork Chop with Rhubarb Mostarda:

Rhubarb Mostarda

2/3 cup (5oz/155g) sugar
1/3 cup (3 fl.oz/80ml) red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (Snippets Note:  buy the fresh stuff, not the powdered, it just makes such a big difference)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 lb (750g) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch (12-mm) chunks
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dry mustard
Freshly ground pepper

For the Pork Chops:

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 double-cut pork chops, each about 1 lb (500g) and 1 1/2 inches (4cm) thick

To make the mostarda, in a large, heavy pot, combine the sugar, vinegar, ginger, garlic, and cumin.  Place over low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.  Add the rhubarb and onion, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently to break up the rhubarb, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the mustard, season with pepper and stir until smooth.  Let cook completely.  If desired, refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temperature before serving.

In a shallow nonreactive dish that will hold the chops in one layer, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, and garlic.  Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt and season with pepper.  Place the chops in the dish and brush both sides thoroughly with the lemon mixture.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours turning the chops occasionally.

Remove the chops from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Lift the chops from the marinade and pat dry.  Reserve the marinade if using a charcoal grill.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct-heat grilling over medium-high heat or preheat a cast-iron stove-top grill pan over medium-high heat.  Place chops on the grill rack over the hottest part of the fire or in the grill pan and cook without moving them for 2 1/2 - 3 minutes.  Move the chops after 1 minute if the fire flares up.  Turn and cook until the chops are golden brown and crusty, 2 1/2 - 3 minutes more.  If using a charcoal grill, brush the chops occasionally with the reserved marinade.  Move the chops to a cooler part of the grill or reduce the heat, and continue to cook until the chops are firm to the touch but still have a little give, 10-12 minutes.  Transfer to a platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 3-4 minutes.  Serve at once with the mostarda!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Crème Brulée - You can do it!


Note:  I've been nominated for Babble's 100 Top Food Blogs!  I have ONE more votes to get into the top 100.  If you like what I've done here, would you follow the side link to Babble and vote for me?  I am on page #3 "Snippets of Thyme"

Isn't everyone always intimidated by the thought of making crème brulée at home?  When I see this on a restaurant menu, there is no doubt what my dessert order will be.  The first tap tap of the spoon on that sugary coating makes me feel like a little girl  anticipating the first peek inside a wrapped gift.  

Or, better yet, perhaps its like the final wallop that breaks open the pinata and all the treats reveal themselves;  the sprinkling to the ground of such goodness bringing endless delight.  

My, my, my but my mind does wander... see what the dessert does to me?

Cream, vanilla seeds and pod, releasing their heady aroma in my kitchen
Let me begin by unraveling this dreamy journey and perhaps some of you out there will delight yourselves and some lucky guests with this creamy, luscious, sensational dessert.

Now, on to the addition of the beloved vanilla bean.  Remember my article about Canino's Market here in Houston? Well, I am still basking in my vanilla bean bonanza find. Buckets I tell you...of vanilla beans.  It was a beautiful sight that made my heart go pitter-patter.   

My husband need not worry about my having a love affair with another man.  However, I certainly have developed an affair with this most exotic flower stamen - the vanilla bean!

This dessert is amazingly simple and elegant.  Undoubtedly it is high in calories but for special occasions, it can be...just that...special!  One wonderful tidbit about making creme brulee is that it can be made ahead.  The custard filling can easily be cooked in the oven, each in their own ramekin and then refrigerated  several days ahead of time.

Just before serving, sprinkle each pot de creme with sugar, torch the tops (right there in front of your guests!!), garnish (or keep it simple) and serve.  At first, I was going try these out under the broiler.  After googling this, though, it didn't seem like that always works well.

So, I sent Patrick off to Lowe's.  If you know my husband (mechanical engineer), you must imagine how he trotted off in full anticipation of a gadget purchase.  He came back giddily carrying our new..."torch".

I knew there was no hope at all that I would be giving the crème brulées their crowning moment of glory. He was completely taking over from here on out.   "Take a picture of the torch flame" he suggested with that adorable twinkle in his eyes.  Here it is... "zee flame"...

Have you ever smelled burnt sugar? 

I tell you...

If the smell could be bottled and sold!  It doesn't take much (burnt sugar) to move my senses.  No wonder I have tearful moments when I wander through farmer's markets and am overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.   
Now I have to go off and find out who were the first people to burn sugar over the top.  Is there a pay scale for  professional "googlers" like me?  Remember, we learned that vanilla seeds are the insides of the stamen of a flower and fluffy bread might have had a start with "beer water"?   I'm going to take a wild guess that burning sugar came from "zee french".  Love those french...

The "torch" used for burning the tops of the brulées can be easily purchased at any hardware store.  We paid $13. (Another note from Patrick:  the torch can be the plumbing section). I know, not very classy info. to include alongside this decadent dessert.

I must confess.  There was no elegant dinner party at our house where these crème brulées were served.  Like everyone else I have chatted with, we are all too afraid to attempt these little pots of luxury... in front of other people.  

Yes, we just sat around our kitchen table, the four of us, in complete rapture, in complete bliss, and savored every bite.  The recipe makes 6 brulées.  Do you follow?  That means there were 2...leftover.

One got tucked into Patrick's (a.k.a. torch man's) lunch the following day.  He told me he whipped his ramekin out during lunch and made a big "to-do" about "just having a simple little leftover" from home.

What happened to the second leftover, you might be musing?  As the writer of this blog...some snippets of info. just won't be revealed...even over thyme... (insert low chortle here...)

Crème Brulée:
(serves 6)

  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1 cup vanilla sugar, divided
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 quarts hot water


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. (Snippet's Note:  lean over the pan and breath deeply)
Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. 
Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. 
Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. 
Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. 
Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 
Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. (Mine needed closer to 45 minutes)  Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. 
Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. 
Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.