Cherry-Almond Clafoutis (Custard Pie)

>> Friday, June 28, 2013

Cherry-Almond Clafoutis

Have I mentioned that I grew up in the heart of Michigan's fruit-growing region? Michigan is known for fantastic apples, cherries, peaches, and berries. When I was growing up in Southwestern Michigan, we celebrated a Blossomtime Festival at the beginning of summer. The priest would go out to the fields to bless the buds. There was a Glad/Peach Festival that I loved, because I grew prizewinning gladiolas in my mom's garden that beat out adult competitors every year. Bike parades, plenty of fruit stands, and summers picking in the hot sun. It was fun growing up in a small town.

One of the biggest and most famous fruit festivals in Michigan is the Traverse City Cherry Festival. Traverse City is beautiful, with just the right conditions to grow luscious crops of cherries every year. They welcome the world to all sorts of cherry-related fun at the start of the cherry season. This year, the festival starts June 29th.

This recipe celebrates cherries, too. A clafoutis is a light and sweet custard pie, similar to a flan, from the Limousin region of central France (yes, my mind is still on a European vacation!). Clafoutis (clah-foo-tee) is usually baked in a wide shallow gratin pan or skillet and cut into wedges. Since we didn't have that pan, and wanted more than thin wedges,  we cooked it in a 9x12 casserole dish. It was so quick that I whipped it up in minutes and let it cook while I dressed for a dinner party last week.

It was delicate and fabulous under the Super Moon on the longest day of summer. Oh, do I love cherries!


Spray oil
Flour for dusting the pan
1/2 cup raw slivered almonds
1 pound sweet black cherries, pitted (you can use frozen cherries if you thaw them and drain them)
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (we used skim milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar (we used dark brown sugar in the photo, because it was all we had, but light brown will give it a lighter golden color and a more delicate taste)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup crème fraîche or plain yogurt at room temperature
2 tbsp powdered sugar


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil and flour a 12-inch round baking dish or a 9x12 rectangle casserole dish.

Heat a small dry pan. Toast the almond slivers on medium-high heat until the almonds are golden and fragrant. Allow them to cool, then sprinkle them over the bottom of the cooking dish. Arrange the cherries over the almonds.

In a mixer bowl or food processor, whip together the eggs, milk, and almond extract. Add the sugar and flour and blend until well mixed. Pour over the cherries.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is well browned and the center is set. Cut into squares or wedges and serve at room temperature drizzled with the cream and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Serves 6-8.


Sheilja's Cilantro/Mint Chutney (Pudina)

>> Friday, June 21, 2013

Sheilja's Cilantro/Mint Chutney

This is that fresh and light chutney, sometimes called pudina, that they serve in many Indian restaurants. It can be made right before serving and used as as a dip (we love it with Indian naan, samosas and pakoras) or drizzled over meats before cooking. This also makes an excellent marinade for lamb, chicken, or fish.

We made it only slightly hot because I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to very spicy foods. The chiles used in this recipe are the tiny green spice torpedoes that are smaller than a pinky finger; add more if you like more heat. Be sure to use gloves when you chop them up.

I recently learned that chutney is a word that can be used for all kinds of sauces and condiments. Some are smooth and liquid like this one, some are dry or chunky or preserved. It's similar to all those salsas in Latin American cuisine. Now we have a whole new genre of sauces yet to try!

Yesterday, Sheilja and I went to Devon Avenue on the north side of Chicago, where there is a large population of people from all over India. We checked out the stunningly beautiful saris and jewelry; one shopkeeper invited me to try on a wedding sari, but I was too focused on lunch. The jewelry is 24-carat gold and is a form of insurance or financial security for some Indian women. I didn't see any price tags on the jewelry, so you know what that means! The dresses were between $400 and $1500.

After lunch at a vegetarian Punjabi restaurant, we went shopping at a couple of Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern grocery stores. Sheilja helped me find some yellow lentils (mung daal), fresh flat-bread chappatis, mango pulp for smoothies, and tandoori paste. There are some delicious meals in our future.


3 Cups chopped fresh mint (we used spearmint but peppermint is best)
3 cups chopped fresh cilantro 
2 small Green Chiles, finely chopped 
2 tsp Garam Masala
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/3 cup fresh lemon Juice
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp olive oil


Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Makes 2 cups.

Sheilja says, "After the chutney is done, I add 2-4 Tablespoons of plain yogurt to a small amount in a separate bowl.  This gives it the light green color to it and makes it milder for the kids to be able to eat it."


Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale

>> Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale

I can't even count the number of times I've felt blessed that I have daughters, but last week I was feeling richly blessed yet again. Jessie, my oldest, had given me a gift certificate for a manicure & pedicure on Mothers' Day; as soon as her summer break began, I went down to the city to have a spa day and lunch with her. Wednesday was the day before my birthday, which meant more presents and cards and love. I love my mother-daughter time.

Angela & Jessie, Mothers' Day at Cafe Ba-Ba-Ree-Ba

(I take the WORST cell phone photos)

Jessie got turquoise polish on her fingers and coral on her toes; my nails were the opposite, and the nail tech put a little glitter on my fourth fingers as a little birthday gift. Then we went over to Opart Thai on Western Avenue for lunch. It's a BYOB place with a liquor store next door. Jessie suggested I try Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale.

Jessie and her boyfriend Erich are talented bartenders who are quite smart about beer, as is Joe, who worked in the restaurant industry for much of his life. I can never keep the latest beers straight in my mind, but I do remember the styles and types that I like...and I'm very picky. Nothing too hoppy or bitter or sulphur-y (like Heineken and that one with the busty girl on the label). I can count on the rest of my crew to suggest a beer that fits my mood, fruity or crisp or malty-caramel.

Domaine DuPage is a mild amber medium-bodied ale, just the right choice with great Pad Thai and BBQ beef skewers, full of caramel and malt but still refreshing. The bottle has this to say about the beer:
"This food-friendly ale is deep amber in color, with a toasty, sweet caramel start. It finishes with just enough hops to clean off the palate. Bon appetit!"
"Two Brothers is a craft brewery on the outskirts of Chicago that specializes in rare and seldom-brewed beer styles. The two of us - Jason and Jim Ebel - strive to produce the very best beers available anywhere. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!"

BeerAdvocate rates it at 86, with an overall score of 91 - if you can figure that out, you're a better woman than I. Anyway, I strongly recommend that you look for this and have one for yourself.


Baked Chicken Parmesan Strips

>> Monday, June 17, 2013

Baked Chicken Parmesan Strips

Joe started making these quick and crispy chicken strips when Jenn was a teenager and her favorite food was chicken fingers. We were trying to get her to eat more healthfully rather than spending her paychecks at fast-food restaurants. These were a big hit, and we still make them even though our girls are on their own, and presumably making very healthy food choices at every meal.

By the way, if you want to annoy your teenager - and who doesn't, sooner or later - you can wait until they order chicken fingers and then whisper, "Chickens don't have fingers. What are you really eating?"


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup skim milk
1/3 cup nonfat dry bread crumbs or cereal crumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste


Cut chicken breasts into thin strips and place on a plate or shallow bowl. Pour the milk over the chicken and refrigerate for 15 minutes, while the meat absorbs the milk.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking pan with cooking spray.

Stir together the rest of the ingredients and spread the mixture on a plate. Roll the strips in the crumbs and place them on a pan, not touching each other. Spray the tops of the strips with more cooking spray.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crumbs are crispy and the chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

Serves 4.


5 Fabulous Steak Marinades and Toppers

>> Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rib eye steak

Birthdays in our home are a big deal, and always have been. When I was a little girl, my mom would cook our favorite dinner for our birthdays. Back then it was often her fried chicken, but nowadays I love a good grilled steak.

When I say that birthdays are a big deal, I mean they are an extravaganza. Sometimes we'll celebrate for a whole week with good food, trips to local interesting places, and specially kind treatment for the birthday king/queen, who has to wear the birthday crown. When our girls lived at home, we'd have cupcakes for breakfast before school on the birthday day, too.

So in honor of my birthday week, I'm offering some of our favorite ways to dress up a steak. Which one do you think I'll choose for my birthday dinner?

1. Joe's Grillmaster Blend

2 tbsp Sea salt
2 tbsp Pepper – fresh ground
2 tbsp Paprika
1 tbsp Garlic powder
1 tbsp Onion powder
1 tbsp Thyme - dried
2 tsp Sugar
2 tsp Chives – dried (optional: garlic chives – dried)
1 tsp Celery seed
1 tsp Nutmeg

Blend ingredients. Generously rub on steak, burgers, chops and let stand for at least ½ hour. Grill!

2. Spicy Coffee Rub

Spicy Coffee Steak Rub

This rub from Bon Appetit magazine works especially well if you baste it in butter while searing on a stove, then indirect-heat roasting it in the oven or on the grill.

1 tbsp Aleppo pepper
1 tbsp finely ground coffee beans 
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper 
2 tsp (packed) dark brown sugar 
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Coat 2-2 1/2 pounds of steak with the rub, and let rest for 30 minutes before roasting or grilling. This meat rub can be made ahead and stored until needed.

3. Balsamic Strawberry Marinade

Balsamic Strawberry Steak Marinade

2 tbsp grapeseed oil
2 tsp lemon zest
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tbsp chives, snipped
2 tbsp ground black pepper
2 cups strawberries, sliced (you can use frozen if fresh is not available)

Stir together all ingredients and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain the liquid from the strawberries and set the berries aside. Pour the marinade over the steak and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

When the steak is ready, top with the strawberries before serving.

Makes 2 cups marinade/topping.

4. Creamy Brandy-Peppercorn Sauce

Steak with Creamy Brandy-Peppercorn Sauce

2 tbsp butter
1 tsp peppercorns, coarsely cracked
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp beef stock base or beef bouillion granules
1/2 cup brandy
3/4 cup half-and-half

Melt the butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir in the peppercorns. Whisk together the mustard, stock base, and brandy, and then pour it into the pan. While it simmers, stir in the half-and-half. Serve hot over a freshly-grilled steak.

This steak is also shown with sauteed onions and mushrooms, which make any steak taste even better. 

Makes about 1 1/4 cups of sauce.

5. Asian Ginger Marinade

Try this on a flank steak cooked medium-rare, then thinly sliced across the grain. Mmmm.

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fish sauce

Whisk together all ingredients. Pour all but 2 tbsp over 2-2 1/2 pounds of steak, and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Pour the last 2 tbsp of marinade over the steak after slicing.

NOTE: if you ever have leftover marinade that has been soaking into raw meat, either discard it or bring it to a boil and cook for 10 minutes before pouring it over the meat, This will kill any pathogens that might have been in the raw meat.



>> Friday, June 7, 2013


A few weeks ago, we asked our Facebook fans what recipes they'd like to try, or meals they'd like to learn how to make. My mom responded that she'd like a recipe for ground lamb. I thought, "Perfect! We'll try making moussaka!"

Moussaka (moo-sah-KA) is probably one of the best-known traditional Greek dishes, after spanakopita, a spinach and cheese pie I absolutely love. The dish has origins in Turkish and Egyptian cooking, and in all those cultures it's a hearty casserole of ground meat and vegetables, sometimes topped with a luscious custard-y cheese and egg sauce the French call bechamel. In Greek cooking, the layers of vegetables, meat, and bechamel sauce are cooked separately, then assembled and baked in a casserole dish.

My parents came to visit us last weekend. After a long day touring Milwaukee's Third Ward, we planned to come home and cook moussaka together while the guys went to a model train store to feed my dad's current obsession hobby.

Milwaukee's river walk
Milwaukee's river walk - and our new boat? I wish!

When we got home, we found we were too tired to cook, and all the cheeses we bought in the market were more than tempting with some fresh fruit and crackers for dinner. We bought gouda and havarti with dill, and several exceptional white cheddars with apricots, mangoes, and blueberries. Good choices.

I sent half the ground lamb home with my mom along with a promise to post the recipe. It was absolutely delicious! We lightened the recipe a bit by using lower-fat white sauce ingredients and by steaming the eggplant and potatoes rather than frying them.

The bechamel sauce really makes the recipe, so be sure you take the time to stir it slowly and let it simmer into an ivory custard.


1 large eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
4  medium potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

For the meat

1 1/2 lb. ground lamb, beef, pork, or any combination of those meats
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 medium Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce

4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp flour
3 eggs, beaten, or 3/4 cup egg substitute
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup hard yellow cheese, grated and divided in half
4 cups milk


Place the sliced eggplant into a bowl of water with 1 tbsp salt, and allow it to soak for 30-60 minutes to remove the bitterness from the peel. Drain, then steam the eggplant with the potatoes in a steamer on top of the stove or in the microwave. The vegetables should be nearly tender when done, but not so tender that it will fall apart in the oven.

In a large frying pan, brown the meat with the onion and garlic. Add the wine, tomato, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and water. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the tomato is softened and the liquid is thick.

Oil a 9x12 casserole dish. Lay down a layer of the potatoes, then a layer of the eggplant. Cover with a layer of the meat mixture. Repeat with the rest of the vegetables and meat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the oil and butter together in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir until the mixture becomes a smooth roux. Whisk together the milk and egg, the slowly pour it into the flour mixture, stirring constantly. If there are any lumps, mix it with a whisk or hand mixture until perfectly smooth. Simmer on low heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Then add the sugar, salt, pepper, cinnamon and half the cheese and stir until creamy again. Stir and simmer until it is the consistency of thin pudding or yogurt.

Pour the bechamel sauce evenly over the top of the casserole dish, then sprinkle with the other half of the cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce is set and the top is golden brown. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to firm up the casserole before cutting into squares and serving (otherwise, the layers sort of slide apart on the dish).

Serves 4-6.


Strawberry Mango Lassi - drink your breakfast!

>> Monday, June 3, 2013

Strawberry Mango Lassi

A mango lassi always reminds me of my very cosmopolitan friend Natasha. We used to work together in corporate IT, and she took me to all sorts of interesting places and cajoled me into trying new foods. She found great places, too, like a Turkish kebab stand in suburban Arlington Heights or the best sushi place close to work. At the time I was a single mom with sole custody of my daughters, so my only social outlet was lunch dates. Natasha's friendship was a lovely gift to me.

On summer mornings, Natasha used to stop into an Indian store on her way to work to pick up a mango lassi. One time she brought one for me, and it was a splendid creamy-fruity breakfast. I had no idea that Indians invented fruit and yogurt smoothies, or that there were mangoes in India, but I completely approved. Delicious.

Eventually Natasha moved away and we lost track of each other. It's a shame. Stephen King wrote, "Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, have you ever noticed that?" Keep track of the good ones, if you can.

A mango lassi is a nice cooling breakfast or snack on a summer day, and I bet it would be even more refreshing in sultry India. Last week I took my smoothie out on the balcony and sipped it (well, it was so thick I also needed a spoon) while I watched the hummingbirds at the feeder. Three ruby-throated hummers have been stopping by lately.

I added some strawberries to this recipe because, you know, it's strawberry season here in the Midwest. You can stir them in sliced after your make the lassi, or puree them with the mango, or skip 'em entirely if you want.


2 cups ripe mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup sliced strawberries
2 cups plain lowfat yogurt
1 cup ice cubes
3 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground green cardamom pods


Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth and creamy. Add more ice or a bit of milk if the smoothie is too thick. If it's not cold enough, chill it in the refrigerator before eating.

Makes about 6 cups.

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