Pear almond flaugnarde

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Today was one of those days when you'd rather stay in than go out in the cold. I had a brisk walk this morning to the market and back, and that was it for me. I preferred to warm up by working around the stove and preparing something new to share with you all. I was lucky to find some firm and ripe green and rosy pears (I have already used up the ones I purchased last weekend), and use them in my cooking.

The night before I stayed up and tried out a few flaugnarde recipes. Flaugnarde is a French dessert that can be made with all kinds of fruit (it is called clafoutis when made with cherries - one of the reasons why every year I cannot wait for the cherry season). The one that I decided to post is my absolute favorite of all. Its subdued coconut aroma goes wonderfully well with the sweetness of pears, and sliced almonds add the-often-lacking crisp to this dessert. To top it all, it is grain and gluten free, as well as very low in sugar.

Pear Almond Flaugnarde 


3-4 Williams pears

1/2 tbsp butter (or coconut oil; I got both but ended up using butter for this one)
1 cup (250 ml) coconut milk (or regular milk)
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup (50 g) muscovado sugar (or brown sugar) - feel free to use less as ripe pears tend to be very sweet
1/2 cup (60 g) almond flour (or regular flour)
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (28 g) peeled and sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 190C. I start by preparing the batter and leave it in the fridge while slicing and arranging the pears. To make the batter, pour milk in a medium-sized bowl, add eggs and mix together. Add vanilla and sugar and mix again. Combine flour and salt and gradually add to the mix. Whisk everything together until you get a smooth batter (just like a pancake batter). If using muscovado sugar, some lumps might remain and that's ok.

Wash and core the pears. Split them lengthwise and slice in thin pieces. Butter the pan and decoratively assemble the pears. Slowly ladle the batter over the pears. Sprinkle sliced almonds over pears and batter. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden-brown and set. Serve warm, alone or with creme fraiche. I enjoyed it with some nice and warm unsweetened chamomile tea.

This recipe is a tweaked version of Gourmande's, and I thank her for the inspiration.

Bon appetit and happy holidays everyone!

Pumpkin magic

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My grandfather has his own farm and tends to spend every sunny day of the year working on it. In late summer and fall, he very generously gifts us with whatever he has harvested: apples, pears, potatoes, carrots, parsley... so much that I usually have to keep on gifting the rest of the family. And friends. And neighbors... (I once gave a pumpkin to a stranger riding with me in my in-laws' building elevator).

Recently, he gave us a very large, beautifully orange pumpkin. I decided to keep it and try to use it to make something new and exciting. However, with million other things to do, it took days for me to finally approach it. But I was ready and I did the research and knew exactly what I want to make out of it: pumpkin puree.

So I washed it and cut it open and... was completely overwhelmed with its rich and powerful color! It just so happened that it rained that day and I felt like someone gave me a piece of sun just to shine from my kitchen counter. When I finally peeled my eyes off of it, I went about preparing the pumpkin for the oven by cutting it in pieces and removing its seeds. Steps for preparing the puree go as follows: bake the pumpkin until it is soft, peel the skin off when it cools and mash it. The actual pumpkin puree is done when most of the juice is squeezed out of the mashed mass.

I removed the seeds carefully and put them aside - my plan was to use them as snacks or salad toppings. Hmm, I thought, pumpkins are quite versatile fruits. I went on to squeeze the juice, and was surprised with just how much of it I got. Well, I reasoned, it would be such a waste to pour all this down the drain. There has to be something I can make with the juice. After little research I realized that there really was something - the juice! Apparently, pumpkin juice is very popular at Hogwarts - favored among the wizardly folk. I admit, this finding made the juice-making process even more fun.

I used all the juice I got and mixed it with freshly squeezed apple juice (apples were from grandpa's orchard, of course). A couple of pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, plus a dollop of honey, and I had me a magical, aromatic, home made treat.

The puree is in the fridge and I keep on finding novel and creative ways to use it. These doughnuts are made with it and flavored with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger. Come fall and all I can think of are exotic spices (well, exotic for my native cuisine). M. says: You think about exotic spices all the time. Somehow, they go perfectly well with yellowing leaves and rainy days. Now I am adding pumpkin to it all - a little piece of warmth given to me by grandpa.

I am grateful to him for sharing with us each year the product of his hard and devoted labor. He is always saying that there really is nothing else he could imagine doing with his harvest than giving it away. Men of his generation tend not to experiment with the common expressions of love - you don't get that many iloveyous, etc. But every once in a while there he is with bags full of delicious fruits and vegetables he has grown on his own. Consequently, his unique way of caring for me has become helplessly intertwined with my fall cooking experiences. I hope it always stays that way.

A safe haven

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It was a grey, cold, and rainy morning... in the city. Actually, the fog and rain stayed with us even at Bjelašnica ski resort. As we stood at the Babin Do and waited for the rest of the group, we looked around and saw nothing but fog. Everywhere. It was cold and wet, and I was glad I wore my knee-high rubber boots. Even though I was not in the best of spirits, I kept thinking, i.e. kept forcing myself to think that as long as I am here, no matter the weather, I will try to enjoy as much as possible.

Who would have thought what we would discover just a few kilometers from there...

Lukomir. Blue skies, history, organic food, wonderful people.

Much to our amazement, the weather started to change with each kilometer as we approached Lukomir. By the time we reached our destination, I was surprised at how much the weather conditions have changed in a little more over an hour's ride from my home. Now I was glad I put sunscreen on my face and dressed in layers (thanks to a tip from my friend S. whose family comes from Lukomir). Good thing I took her seriously when, in response to my question about the weather up there, she responded with You never know.

Situated in a valley, yet atop a hill that goes down to Rakitnica canyon, Lukomir seemed like a portal to 14th century. We were greeted by very warm and friendly locals who were still in the village. Most of them have already left due to the coming winter. In the coldest season, Lukomir is completely cut off from the rest of the civilization, and its inhabitants leave for the nearby cities and settlements (Lukomir is the settlement at the highest altitude in B&H - around 1500 m above sea level). 

After paying respects at the medieval tombstones which lie at the entrance to the village, we took a downhill walk into the Rakitnica canyon. As we walked down, we passed by what used to be the Donji Lukomir (Lower Lukomir) settlement. Its inhabitants moved over time to Gornji Lukomir (or just Lukomir) due to avalanches that claimed lives of its inhabitants every winter (it is said that each family had at least one family member who was killed in the avalanches at some point). Now, the only remnants of this settlement are scattered old mills, with water still dripping through them.

Our two hour long downhill walk ended at the Peruća waterfall. The water was cold and refreshing. Upon the return to Lukomir, we visited a local family. They welcomed us with lunch of home made cheese and potato pies, served with organic yoghurt, and followed by coffee, and, for me, warm herbal tea. Incredible kindness and good humour of the locals overwhelmed us. They shared their food and their stories, and by the end of it all I had forgotten about the silly bad weather that was affecting my mood.

On our way back, we were again greeted by fog and rain. But the uncanny Lukomir images and experience made them much more bearable this time around.

Rose hip picking

Saturday, October 22, 2011

We have been blessed with some very sunny weather in the past few days. In trying to make the best out of it, we spent one Saturday working on our tea collection for the winter. I also toyed with the idea of making some rose hip jam but sadly did not come close to having the time to do it (at least not yet). Making rose hip jam is very elaborate and time-consuming - but so worth it. The idea of having my own homemade, fresh rose hip jam for the winter is still attractive to me, so I guess we'll see what happens.

There is something to be said about getting out there and collecting your own teas. Now the tea-drinking takes on another component: carrying the vivid images of summer mountain walks. Since we will all soon crave some color, and since memory is fallible, I also made a few shots to keep things animated throughout the winter.

There is a wonderful little centuries-old village some 40 minutes from my house, tucked away in the hills of mountain Bjelasnica. Couple of hundred meters above it is a tiny shepherd's village, and right past it a valley with a brook running through. It is just a beautiful place for a long and quiet walk, until you reach what seems like finis terrae with a view of Rakitnica canyon.

What I find very refreshing about this region is the people. They do not get that many visitors on any given day, so you are instantly a novelty when you visit. By now I have become acquainted with many of them. It is the place I go to for fresh eggs and free apple-pie :)

My plan is to snowshoe through the valley in the winter (fingers crossed). If it happens, I'll be sure to share some images and stories with you.

The buds are now resting all over my house (floors and tabletops). All the red reminded me that red is Layla's favorite color. I don't know how many times mom has suggested to her that not everything has to be red in her paintings. Kind of wish I had one of them to share with you now... Soon, perhaps.

See you around.

Rainy day celebration

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Well, it is safe to say that fall is officially here. We have pulled out the winter clothes from our closets and the rain has been around just to make sure we do not forget that its time has come. Even though the transition from sunny to gloomy days can be sombering, I truly appreciate each season and all it brings (including in-season produce). We have been absorbed in harvesting the fall-goodies but in the past week it was all overshadowed by one special day. 

These days we celebrated my husband's birthday. Even though he is not too fond of anything with sugar (a blessing, I say!), I decided to try to make something new especially for him. He loves chocolate cream and fruit in desserts, so I started looking for something that combines the two, and ended up with a chocolate-citrus combination.

I also took up the task of making the dreaded macaron. This delicate French dessert is notorious for the number of times you need to fold the meringue when preparing it. You can easily go too far, but also come up short. For me, cooking is also a lot about learning, so I persisted. Third time was the charm.

So he had a fruity-chocolatey cake for birthday as well as the sight of me happily dancing around after the macarons came out of the oven perfectly crunchy, perfectly soft, and feet-ful. We both had a reason to celebrate, you might say.
Depending on how kitchen-experienced you are, the cake itself might look quite elaborate. In truth, it really is not. Essentially, all you need to make is one chocolate-based biscuit and three cremes.


For the shells:
90 gr egg whites (preferably aged overnight in the fridge)
30 gr granulated sugar
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr finely ground almonds

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam and slowly add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (do not overbeat it!). Sift together suger and almonds, and add them to the meringue.. Give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully (the whole process should not take more than 50 strokes). Fill a plain tip pastry bag with the batter and pipe small rounds onto parchment paper or silicone mat. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells a bit. In the meantime, preheat the oven to140 C.
When ready, bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool. To fill: pipe or spoon about 1 big tablespoon of butterceam in the center of one shell and top with another one.

Vanilla Buttercream

100 gr sugar
60 gr egg whites

170 gr unsalted butter, room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split open and seeded

Place the sugar and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly, until the mixture feels hot to touch, about 3-5 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved. 
Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat the meringue on medium speed until it cools and forms a thick shiny meringue, about 6 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment and add slowly add the butter, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed with the whisk attachment until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. Add the seeds from the vanilla bean to the buttercream and fold with a spatula until fully incorporated.

Lemon Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Biscuit

140 grams egg yolks
120 grams sugar
140 grams egg whites
25 grams sugar
45 grams cocoa powder
75 grams flour
45 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Whip the egg yolks and the sugar to a thick ribbon. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until almost fully whipped. Sprinkle in the sugar and whip until firm peaks form. Add about fourth of the meringue to the egg yolk base. Sift the dry ingredients into this base and fold gently. Fold in the remainder of the meringue.Add the melted and cooled butter and fold. Bake at 190C for about 10 minutes.

Lemon Syrup

50 grams water
50 grams sugar
juice of one lemon

Cook the sugar and water together until sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool and then add the juice.

Dark Chocolate Mousse

5 grams powder gelatin
40 grams granulated sugar
10 grams glucose
15 grams water
50 grams egg yolks
175 grams dark chocolate, chopped
250 grams heavy cream
Soften the gelatin in cold water (preferably using a larger bowl). Beat the egg yolks for about 5 minutes until very light in color. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes.Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.

In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 30 grams of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir 100 grams of whipped cream to temper. Add the pate a bombe. Add in the rest of the whipped cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Lemon Cream

215 grams eggs
75 grams sugar
215 grams lemon juice
Zest of 3 lemons
300 grams butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, juice and zest. Place this bowl over a double boiler and cook while whisking until the custard thickens. Immediately, strain the custard through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Let the custard cool (it will be warm to the touch but not too hot that when we add the butter, it will melt right away). Once the custard has cooled, start adding the butter and blend the cream with a mixer. 

Milk Chocolate Chantilly

250 grams heavy cream
90 grams milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Boil the cream and pour over the milk chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Let this ganache rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Then whip it as whipped cream.

Build the cake
I made this using the cake frame with removable sides. Make the chocolate mousse right when you are ready to start building the cake. Soak the biscuit with the lemon syrup. Spread the chocolate mousse evenly on top of the biscuit. Let this harden in the freezer for at least 2 hours.
In the meantime, make the lemon cream. When the chocolate mousse has hardened, spread the lemon cream evenly on top of it. Freeze the cake overnight.
This is when you remove the sides of the pan. Cut the cake when it is semi frozen. Pipe the milk chocolate chantilly over the lemon cream and decorate.

Hope you are staying warm.

Happy birthday, love.

Damned lies, chocolate truffles and an awful truth

Monday, October 3, 2011

Right, so I lied to you in the first post (what a way to begin). It did not actually go ''3, 2, 1... aaaand published!''. No. It went more like this: ''Ok... previeeew (click)... ... um, wait... what just happened?''. 

So yes, I accidentally clicked Publish. I guess my browser got fed up with all the previews or something. Eventually I sighed, murmured something along the lines of kismet, and closed the window. What I'm trying to say is that I kind of took this accidental click as an indication that I should start writing. How deliberate of me (come to think of it, my main computer which holds all my photographs crashed just last week; now, perhaps I should have taken that as a sign).

And now for the reason why I am truly mentioning this: I am simply trying to excuse my tardiness with the new post (remember how I mentioned that my computer crashed?). Insert smile and batting lashes.

Now that we got that out of the way, perhaps we can start talking about things that truly matter: like food and photography. So here it comes, a terrible truth about me: I don't like chocolate. I hardly ever eat it, and when I do, it has to have 90% of cocoa in it. I listen in disbelief as my (girl)friends talk about their 'addiction'. Shelves of chocolate products in supermarkets are completely lost on me. I secretly think that my friend who eats chocolate with bread for breakfast is a little crazy. I think by now you got the point.

But to cook with chocolate? Oh, my. To melt it, shape it, add stuff to it... That's where I go to the opposite extreme. You know the craving you get as you mix the perfect chocolate-y batter? I certainly do (I admit, I've licked more batter-dipped spoons than I, well, than I care to admit). I love its earthy, cocoa color, its versatility, and the elegance of its movement as it is being poured out of the bowl. So you won't see me hesitate to use it in recipes, especially when cooking for my loved ones (layla says: cocholate). I love it in desserts.

In addition to being a feast for your chocolate-loving friends' palate, with this dessert you can be easily creative in terms of presentation and ingredients. You can roll it in sprinkles, have whatever surprise you want in the center, and even mix the ganache with ground almonds, cocoa, cookie crumbs... The possibilities are endless. 

Chocolate is fun, what else can I say?

I am sure that most of you are already in a committed relationship with chocolate (and will, therefore, have no consideration for my chocolate-insensitive palate). Go easy on me please, nobody is perfect!

I will post the recipe below, and would love to hear from you about other variations you may have tried. Have fun trying it out, and I almost promise to post new ideas soon.

So there you have it. I've lied a little, I admitted to something terrible, and I made a dessert. What more can you ask for in a day? :)

Cocoa and Hazelnut Chocolate Truffles:

250 grams bittersweet quality dark chocolate (broken in pieces for melting)
125 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large egg yolks
1 cup (125 grams) confectioners' sugar
cocoa powder for dusting
hazelnuts as needed

Melt the chocolate in a large bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Remove from the heat and add the butter in about three heapings. Stir until completely incorporated. Add the egg yolks and powdered sugar whisking until the batter is smooth.
Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
When ready to roll, scoop out balls of ganache with a spoon, roll them in between your palms pretty quickly (the chocolate will start to melt) and place them in a plastic bowl lined with baking paper. I prefer to shape smaller size balls. At this point, you have two options. You can immediately roll the balls in cocoa powder (spread the cocoa powder on a baking sheet and roll on top of it), or you can refrigerate the balls overnight and roll them in cocoa powder the next day. 
To prepare the hazelnut truffles, start by selecting a hazelnut, and then scooping out some of ganache and shaping it in a circle around the hazelnut. Have chopped hazelnuts ready for rolling.
Keep them refrigerated until ready to eat.



Monday, September 12, 2011

Three, two, one... aaaand published!!!

That above is me finally clicking on Publish and making this blog a reality. So easy, so simple, so (literally) 'a click away'. And now I have leaped.

This introductory post is dedicated to all those who have inspired me, and in particular my five year old sister Layla - an incessant source of joy and insanity in my life. She is a hilarious and fearless little individual, and will say and ask everything and anything that comes to her mind. Her innocence I hold precious; it is my constant reminder of all the little things in life that adulthood somehow makes us forget. 

The two of us are oceans apart, and to abridge the distance sometimes I cook with her in mind. It is one of the ways in which I feed my melancholy and keep my loved ones close(r) to my heart.

I made these tiny doughnuts as part of our Sunday morning breakfast - somewhat of a rarity here but a staple food in Layla's world. The recipe I found and adapted from one of our fellow bloggers (will put a tag as soon as I figure out how!). What a lazy Sunday it wasn't - I am preparing for a week long trip starting tomorrow, so instead of packing, I figured it best to finally publish what has been brewing in my mind for quite some time. Needless to say, my bags are still gaping open on my bedroom floor and my clothes are strewn everywhere!

I served the doughnuts with Nutella and spicy hot chocolate, even though, in my  humble opinion, they taste best on their own. The coolness of ricotta cheese is nicely complemented by orange zest - the citrus flavor comes as quite a surprise given the ''plain'' appearance of doughnuts.

For those that want to try, here is the recipe:

Ricotta Doughnuts

Makes about 20 (small size) doughnuts

3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
250 grams ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon or orange zest
Oil for frying
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Nutella/preferred jelly or honey

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, ricotta, and salt. Sift together the dry ingredients and add them to the batter.

Heat about 8 cm of oil in a deep pot. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the oil and cook until golden brown on each side. Do not make the doughnuts very big and do not overcrowd the pot to ensure they are cooked through. Remove doughnuts from the pot and allow them to drain on paper towels.

Dust the doughnuts with powdered sugar and/or pipe Nutella into the center of each one. These doughnuts taste best when served warm so make them just before you are ready to serve them.

Thank you for stopping by my world... Enjoy and have a happy Monday everyone! It is Layla's second week of school - she will be bringing doughnuts for lunch ;)