Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs - A special dessert for Brian.

Every year Brian and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date. Over the years it has become a somewhat of a tradition that I try to make him a special treat, meal, or dessert; this year I contemplated over what that thing should be. When you are with someone as long as we have been (twenty two years) this never gets easier. I always want it to be new…or different than the item I made in the years past. Brian enjoying a dinner out recently.This year I was off my game. I will admit that from the start. I knew I wanted to make him a dessert. I systematically debated in my head what and how it should be. I tossed around ideas on flavor combos.  Thought of how I could play around with the texture of a few more traditional desserts. I even contemplated what and how these items will be eaten and served. My mind may never be at rest when it comes to food, but that is just me. Finally, to end the rambling consideration in my head I turned to Brian and I asked: “What do you really look for when it comes to a dessert? What favor do you hear and say, Yes That is what I want to eat!!!” He responded with he usual: dark chocolate, creaminess, and I like things tart too! There it was, he said it and it struck a cord: creamy and tart.

I instantly envisioned an eclair cut length wise, with a layer of lemony tartness and topped with another layer of thick vanilla bean pastry cream. I would brush the tops of them with a light lemon sugar glaze. But these eclairs would be made miniature. Any dessert you can make is more fun and exciting to eat when it is made in miniature. It makes for more interaction and conversation to take place too.

Miniture Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs, ready to be enjoyed.So the other day when I came home from work I whipped up some mini eclairs, about 4 dozen to be exact. While the pate choux (eclair batter) baked I stood over the stove and stirred my lemon curd and pastry cream, I patiently waited for them to thicken, before I strained and chilled them both. I had them both in the refrigerator chilling when Brian came home and saw the eclair shells on the dinning table. He asked what they were, and I could tell he was trying to resist popping one in his mouth. When I explained it was a surprise for after dinner he grinned. We sat and ate our dinner and cleaned up the kitchen.  When we were done we sat down with cups of tea and I started to fill the little eclairs and glaze them. He observed and asked why the special treat? As always I told him as many years we have been together - you and we deserve a special treat. And we feasted! Popping the little eclairs in our mouths in between sips of tea. We chatted about our day, our jobs, our dogs, and the planning of a future vacation. These little eclairs were zesty with tartness, and the vanilla bean pastry cream mellowed it out just a tad. Having made these in miniature it was a perfect balance of flavor and texture because you got a little bit of everything about this dessert in each bite.

As for twenty two years with Brian? It has been an adventure so far. We have lived together and separately in four different states - in two big cities - lived in separate states for months at a time - numerous apartments - owned a home - owned and ran two businesses - traveled abroad - taken road trips - and yes we are still together! We have taken many roads to get where we are, but that suits us just fine. Twenty two years is a long time, time well spent. We have just done it thus far with especially tasty food and desserts to accompany it all. Personally I think the layers of flavors in this dessert are much like the life we have experiences thus far. They are different but blend well for a delicious outcome.

Latte (our Lab) was admiring the eclairs, and wanted to they one with us.Zesty Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs (yields 3 - 4 dozen)

***NOTE - the recipe for the Pate Choux make 3 - 4 dozen. The lemon curd and the pastry cream make way more then is needed in this recipe. You can cut those recipes in half if you like, but I like to do the full amount and store the remainder in my refrigerator and find other uses for them in the next couple of days. I always store the extra in air tight sealed containers.

Pate Choux (Eclair Dough)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup of water

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup flour

4 eggs, plus one egg white

First, bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat. Using a spoon or spatula, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and a film forms on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes. It will make a sizzling noise, that is expected. But you are looking for the mixture to be all hydrated and in the form of ball or blob of dough.

Next, transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes or until you no longer see steam rising from the bowl and the bowl itself is cool to the touch. Raise speed to medium; add your whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat remaining egg white, and mix it into batter a little at a time until it does.

Finally, have a pastry bag fitted with a tip no bigger than 1/2 in in diameter.  Have three baking sheets lined with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Fill the bag with the batter and pipe batter in strait lines no bigger than 2 - 2 1/2 inches long. Space them at least 2 inches apart. Place them in the oven and bake roughly 20 - 25 minutes depending on your oven. Your pate choux should have expanded and at least doubled or more in hight. Once it is golden brown and feels crisp it is ready to be pulled form the oven and cooled.

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (Makes about 1 quart)

2 1/4 cup whole milk

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup corn starch

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

First, In medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch.

Next, in a 4 quart pot place the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk along with the scraped seeds from vanilla bean; as well as the pod. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Place the pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.

Then, once the milk and vanilla bean mixture is at a simmer remove from the burner. Temper some of the hot milk mixture gradually into your yolk mixture - whisking it. Combine it all to your hot milk in the pot, and place over moderate heat. Cook it; whisking or stirring it (always to be sure you are touching the bottom of the pot with your whisk or spoon) constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute.

Finally, remove you pot from heat, and strain into a bowl though a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of you pastry cream and refrigerate until chilled completely cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 5 days.)

Lemon Curd (about 1 quart)

1 1/4 fresh lemon juice

12 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

8 oz unsalted butter, cold and cut up into 1 inch pieces

zest of 3 lemons

2 tbsp heavy cream

First, in a saute pan place your egg yolks and sugar and wis together. Add in the lemon juice and salt and whisk again. Place the butter in the pan and place the pan over medium low heat.

Next, while constantly stirring your mixture with a silicone spatula you will notice your butter begin to melt and mix into your lemon curd. It should begin to thicken not long after the butter melts.

Then, once your mixture is thick and coats the back of your spatula it is done cooking. It should be quite thick and no longer liquid like. Remove the pan from the heat pour the mixture and though a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the heavy cream.

Finally, place plastic wrap directly over the curd and refrigerate until completely chilled (about 2 hours). Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Lemon Glaze

1 1/2 cup powder sugar

1/4 - 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

In a bowl place your powdered sugar, and with a fork stir in a little bit of lemon juice at a time. It will start out really thick and as you add more lemon juice it will losses up.

You are looking for the glaze to be thick enough that you can spread it on the eclair without dripping off. If you feel it is too thick and you used all the lemon juice you can sub in a teaspoon of water at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

Once the desired consistency is reached you can stir in the lemon zest. It is best to use this mixture immediately as it thickens as it sits.

Eclair Assembly

1. With a sharp knife, slice your eclair shells (Pate Choux) in half length wise, be sure you still have a flat bottom on one half.

2. Fill some of your lemon curd and your pastry cream in separate pastry bags and set aside.

3. Line your bottom half of your eclair shells on a tray. With your lemon curd, pipe a bit of curd to fill the bottom half.

4. Repeat this with your pastry cream, piping it over the top of the lemon curd. You are looking for both the curd and the pastry cream to be in two even layers.

5. Spread the tops of each eclair shell with the lemon glaze and rest the tops over the filled bottom halves. Chill until ready to eat, and best is made no longer than 6 - 4 hours before serving…they will get soggy the longer they sit prepared. Best to keep chilled until ready to eat!

Spanish Pea Soup and a morning with my dogs.

I adore peas. Brian on the other hand cannot stand them. Doesn’t want to find one on the end of his fork, let alone ever taste one. This is a bit of a disappointment on my part, although the way I look at it is that I get to enjoy them all the more when he is not around. Martini and Latte Walking along the beach.

Being that it is spring, peas are at their prime. They are super bright and sweet in flavor. I have been admiring them at the markets, but waiting for the perfect opportunity (aka: when Brian is not around) to prepare some. As luck should have it Brian had to go to away for the weekend for a business trip. Is it bad to say I was a tad excited? This means I get to have one on one time with my dogs and I also get to eat all the peas I want!

Martini wandering on her own.

As for more perfect timing that week, I came home from work to catch the Barefoot Contessa making a Spanish Pea Soup. It was simple, straight forward, and looked luscious. I was dead set on making it. Now the Barefoot Contessa made it with chicken stock and when serving topped them with crispy pieces of ham. I may not eat meat but I knew exactly how to adapt it all. I would sub out the chicken stock for a veggie stock, and for the ham, I replace it with some crispy tempeh bacon.

Latte splashing around and looking for fish.

So on Sunday morning I woke early to spend the day with my dogs. We headed out to the beach. The tide was out, and I let Martini and Latte off leash to roam as they please. It was a beautiful morning. We wondered up and down the beach, splashed in puddles, listened to the sea otters in a distance, and watched a few sail boats. It really was a perfect morning and a great way to start a day. Later on, once we were home, I was whipping up the soup to enjoy. As the dogs snoozed and snored - dreaming of the beach I am sure - I was enjoying the Spanish Pea Soup. It had a wonderfully bright green hue, it’s texture was velvety, and it was packed full of luscious pea flavor. The crispy tempeh bacon added a contrast and it’s smoky, savory flavor complimented to natural sweetness of the peas. I add a dab of creme fresh to it all and it is my belief that it was flawless. I know it may sound awful to some, but I am so happy Brian had to go away. I now have a great memory of my morning with my girls, and I got to enjoy a fantastic soup that I have leftovers all to myself!

Spanish Pea Soup

Spanish Pea Soup (serves 6)

1/4 cup chopped shallots (about 2 large shallots)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)

4 cups chicken stock, or veggie stock

2 pounds peas, fresh or frozen

extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 thin slices Spanish Serrano ham or tempeh bacon

Creme Fresh or Sour Cream for serving

First, place a deep heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Once warmed through add the shallots and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

Next, add the peas (fresh or frozen) and cover with the stock. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender until coarsely puréed. Taste it all and season it with salt and pepper if you feel it is needed.

Then, if using the ham, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the ham in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast for 5 to 8 minutes, until crisp. If using the tempeh, heat through a bit of olive oil in a nonstick pan and sear the bacon until crispy on each side.

Finally, when ready to serve, ladle the soup into your bowls. Lay your ham or bacon over the top and if using spoon a bit of creme fresh on top.

Fresh Herb Omelette and Uncle Jimmy's Wisdom

I was watching a TV show the other day (something I do not do often). In the show there was a breakup of a couple. In the long run I guess the premiss of the show was about being brave and moving on. As the show closed I found that I was tearing (again something I do not do often). The episode was just so touching to me. I questioned myself: Is there anything more raw than the ending of a relationship where you admit you're sorry that it is over? The whole thing made me think of my late Uncle Jimmy (I have written about him before here) and I had a flashback to the summer of 1993 when I graduated high school. My parents had some family over for a little B.B.Q. on a warm Sunday afternoon. We were all in the back yard, with my Uncle Frank & Aunt Fran and my Uncle Jimmy & Aunt Marge. My Uncle Jimmy looked at me and asked where Rob was. Rob was a boy I had dated through the school year. I explained to him that I did not think it was going to last between us. We were both going away to different colleges, and I was not sure we cared for each other enough to make it work.

My Uncle Jimmy in the late 1990's.

He looked at me with a concerned look and told all about his love for my aunt over the years. He explained to me that he always cared for my Aunt Marge. He told me about how they were young and she was not interested in a relationship. He explained that time passed and he always came by to see how my Aunt was, some time later as luck should have it she gave him a chance and they have been together ever since. Never feel sad about love not working out, he told me. Time will let love work itself out. In the meantime you have to live and be happy. (At the time he was telling me this he and my aunt must have been together about over 50 years.)

Eggs, and assorted Fresh Herbs for my Omelette.

Like always, my Uncle Jimmy gave me so much wisdom. I always listened to him because in some ways it was so truthful and more honest than anything anyone else would have ever told me. If I did’t listen to him I might not be with my husband today. We met the summer my uncle and I had this conversation. My Uncle Jimmy was always full of good advice as far as I am concerned. I love thinking about things he said or expressed to me over the years.

Funny the things I remember, and can recall him telling me. Vividly I can remember him telling me about making omelettes. “I had a six egg omelette today. Keeps me strong!” I may not take him up on eating a six egg omelette, but when I make any omelette he is always on my mind. Personally I like to make my omelettes with a mixture of herbs to flavor it. I also like to be sure I get some golden brown hue on the eggs, I like the flavor it imparts on them. Most always I serve this with a fresh green salad and some oven roasted potatoes. If my Uncle Jimmy was still here I would gladly make one to share with him. I definitely think he would enjoy it. I am so thankful for the memories I have and his wisdom. I carry them in my heart.

Fresh Herb Omelette, ready to eat.

Fresh Herb Omelette (serves 2)

*Note: you can use any mix of fresh herbs you feel fit. I generally l use parsley and rosemary in addition to what I used along with this one, but this is what I had on hand today. Feel free to adapt the herbs as you feel fit, but always be sure they are fresh.

4 large eggs

1/4 cup finely chopped herbs; dill, thyme, and oregano

3 tbsp heavy cream

2 tbsp of olive oil

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

First, place a 9 inch nonstick pan over medium to high heat and heat through.

Next, crack your eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk well until all the yolks and whites are broken and combined. Add in the cream and whisk again.

Then, add your olive oil to the pan, while swirling it around to coat it well. Add your herb mix to the eggs and stir it well. Season the eggs with sea salt and fresh black pepper before adding the mixture to your hot pan.

Finally, gently tilt your pan back and forth to be sure your mixture is evenly distributed. I like to use a rubber spatula to gently nudge the edges of your egg all the way around to be sure it is not sticking to the pan. Easily flip your omelette over once it all seams set so that will gently brown on the opposite side. After a minute, and you are sure your egg is cooked through; you can slide it out of the pan and serve.