I Have the World's Largest Collection of Seashells...

"...I keep it on all the beaches of the world ... perhaps you've seen it..."
Comedian Steven Wright once said that, and I still get a kick out of it.

Well, I'm also the proud owner of a seashell collection. Come look...

While I don't claim to be a conchologist, I dare say my seashells are better than Mr. Wright's because once you're done admiring them, you can eat'em.

My seashells are very rich, moist, buttery, and delivers the ultimate almond flavor punch. I baked them in a cast iron shell pan, which is manufactured by the John Wright Company (no relation to comedian Steven Wright).

By the way, if you don't own a seashell pan, don't fret. Instead, bake it in a 9-inch Springform pan. Although, I've also baked these cakelets in the old Jello "blossom" molds, which work well, if you're aiming for pweshus.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that these almond cakelets were covered with a basic confectioner's glaze flavored with vanilla extract and a few drops of almond extract. That said, these cakelets would also be sinful covered in chocolate. Yeeaaah. Hey, anybody got a cigarette?!

Almond Cakelets

1 cup (8 ounces) almond paste
1¼ cups sugar
1¼ cups butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325º F. Grease and flour a 9-inch Springform pan or 14 "blossom" molds. Combine the almond paste and sugar in a food processor and pulse until blended. Add the butter and vanilla; pulse until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and pulse until just combined. Do not overmix.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the almond mixture and pulse to blend.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 1 to 1½ hours in the Springform, or 20-25 minutes in the single-serving molds, or until lightly golden on top. Adapted from a recipe by Amy Whitelaw, pastry chef of Left Bank.


I've Tested Positive for Carbs...

... specifically, breads. They're a weakness I often look forward to regretting. Quelle triste.

But, sometimes, a bread recipe comes along that's not only delicious, but good for you too. Walnut Bread meets both criteria. Walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, while Walnut Oil is a good source of alpha-lino ... alpha-linolen ... whatever. It's an oil said to boost the immune system. And since most of us know whole wheat flour is an excellent source of insoluble fiber, and this is a food blog, you will forgive me if I avoid this subject altogether.

Have you noticed how most bread recipes suggest you pile on the butter in order to enjoy freshly-baked bread? Doesn't that make you giggle just a little? I mean, even pine bark slathered in butter would get a nod of approval from the masses, no?

Well, I will not suggest you butter this bread, because it's damn good au naturel. BUT, if like me, you choose to ignore your inner voice, then go ahead and top it with an eyebrow-raising blob of butter, or goat cheese, or labneh (yogurt cheese) and honey, or transform it into a grilled cheese sandwich.

Regardless of how you serve it, I hereby predict you will be beaming with the Caps Lock On all the livelong day. Uh-huh.

Walnut Bread

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
pinch sugar
½ cup hot water (110°F)
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ cups lukewarm water (85°F)
½ cup walnut oil
3 cups unbleached AP flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
Kosher salt

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the hot water in a bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes to proof.
Add the lukewarm water, sugar, oil and AP flour to the yeast mixture; mix until blended. Add the whole wheat flour and stir, then knead it in until smooth and elastic, 10-15 minutes. Add the salt during the last 5 minutes of kneading.
Place the dough into an oiled bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover and let rise overnight at room temperature. Or, allow it to rise 2 to 4 hours, or until doubled in bulk. I prefer the former.

Punch down the dough. Working briefly, knead in the toasted walnuts until evenly distributed. Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal*
Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a round loaf. Sprinkle the tops with kosher salt. Cover loosely and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake the loaves for 45 minutes, or until they're a deep brown. Adapted from a recipe by Flo Braker.

*I placed the loaves on parchment paper and using a peel, I slid the loaves onto a preheated baking stone, omitting the cornmeal.


Farewell to Tastespotting

It was exactly one year ago that I discovered Tastespotting, a site created for sharing our stories, cooking expertise and of course, pictures of our creations.

Holy Crap, Tastespotting was like crack. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. And now it's gone. I don't know what happened, and I don't really care, I just want to see it back.

There's been talk of another site recipes2share working on a similar setup to TS. I would like to think that Tastespotting will be back, but if it doesn't, well, I'll be truly sorry.


Angel Hair Flans are Downright Heavenly

Do any of you remember a baked spaghetti dish that was an old standby of most of your friends' moms back in the 70s?
Yeah, neither do I.

That was certainly before my time. But, I've been told, it was a very popular dish because it consisted of leftover spaghetti, to which you'd add bottled spaghetti sauce, a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella and there, by the power of Chef Boyardeeplorable, a reconstructed dinner was born.

Here is a delightful pasta dish that is just as easy to prepare, but far tastier and a bit more elegant. Serve this as a side dish with chicken (as pictured below), or fish. And if you want to take it to another squisito level, then Du-ude, by law you have to make the Tomato Coulis I've included. So, if you're lucky enough to have access to really good tomatoes, use them here. Bon Appétit.

Angel Hair Flans

1 cup whipping cream
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1 pinch dried, crumbled
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 ounces of angel hair pasta, freshly cooked
garnish with Parmesan frico, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter six ½ cup soufflé dishes or ramekins. Whisk first 4 ingredients in a bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup Parmesan cheese. Divide cooked pasta among prepared ramekins. Pour egg mixture over angel hair pasta. Sprinkle flans with remaining Parmesan. Bake until flans are set and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Run small knife around sides of ramekins to loosen. Unmold and serve. Yields: 6 servings.

Tomato Coulis

2 pounds ripe, fresh tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon cold butter
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly groung black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Place tomatoes in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, covered, until very juicy, about 20 minutes. Strain into a bowl through a fine-mesh strainer.
Return the strained tomatoes to the pan and slowly reduce over medium heat until thickened to a sauce consistency. Reduce heat to very low and whisk in the butter. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to enrich the sauce. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Serve warm. Yields: 2 cups. Tomato Coulis from Union Square Cafe.


Color Therapy

Do you want to know what my favorite color is? No?
Well then, pull up a chair and I'll tell you all about it.

My favorite color is referred to as the color of love. It is a strong, sexy color. In some cultures this color is associated with good luck, energy, fortune, creativity and joy. And -as if you needed a bigger hint- some of my favorite fruits are intensely painted this color: Tomatoes, Cherries, Watermelon and Strawberries!

What was that? This color is also symbolic of blood, you say? Do I sense a hint of hostility here? Well, there's really no need to see red.
And because I believe blood should be on the inside, I will get right to the point, and tell you what my favorite color is: Black!

You may cease fire.
Just making sure you were paying attention. At least, I'm the first to admit I suck at placating my blogging audience. All right, so red, RED! is my favorite color. Now you can all sleep at night.
By the way, do you know what's red, white, and scrumptious all over?

Crème Fraîche Ice Cream Topped with Homemade Strawberry Jam. Word.
Incidentally, the candied roses are easy enough to make and will be featured in a future blog entry.

Crème Fraîche Ice Cream

Zest and juice of one lemon
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2/3 cup granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 cup crème fraîche

Before you begin, have ready a strainer, and a bowl resting in a larger bowl that is filled with ice.

In a medium-size saucepan, combine the milk, cream, and lemon zest. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add to the cream mixture, along with the pod.

Bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and let it sit 15 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk sugar and egg yolks together until mixture forms a ribbon when whisk is lifted. Gradually beat in hot cream mixture. Return to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Do not let mixture come to a boil, or it will curdle. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Stir in the lemon juice and crème fraîche. Cool the mixture quickly by putting the custard in the bowl immersed in ice. Once cooled, cover and chill custard thoroughly. Freeze in an ice cream maker following manufacturer's instructions. Makes 1 quart.

Now -to me- homemade Strawberry Jam had always been something I simply purchased and stored in the back of the refrigerator until it spoiled, and the mold grew big enough to break out of my fridge to freedom. I never ate that stuff, and I reckon I bought them only because I got lured by the pretty little jars they came in.

It wasn't until my sister in law (whom I shall only refer to as "Karen" [her real name]) shared a jar of her homemade Strawberry Jam with me that made my tastebuds stand up and take notice. Needless to say, but say I will, I knew I had to try my hand at preserving these lovely little jewels of Summer. Thank you sister "Karen" for your inspiration!

Strawberry Jam

3 pints ripe strawberries, rinsed well and hulled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 cups granulated sugar

Add strawberries to a 3-quart pan set over moderate heat. Crush strawberries with a potato masher, but try not to purée the berries. Mix in the sugar and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes, or until the mixture has started to thicken. Skim foam from surface and spoon jam into sterilized jars. Seal according to manufacture's directions. Makes five 6-ounce jars.