Pain d’Epice – Honey bread with cinnamon, orange and star anise

A traditional and naturally healthy dense spongy bread. This childhood recipe contains no fat and no dairy, and brings high energy.
Served at tea time, home from school with a bowl of hot chocolate, as a dessert to accompany poached pears or strawberry soup, or to take along an adventure as an energy snack. This bread keeps well for a few days wrapped at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.
It is best to weight the ingredients directly into the mixing bowls (with a zeroing scale) for more accurate quantities, especially when using honey which tends to stick to the sides of measuring cups.
9 oz rye flour
9 oz honey
1/2 cup hot water
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp crushed star anis seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
a Tbsp of grape seed oil to coat the baking pan
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
20130526-095017.jpg Star anis is very hard when dried and it is best to use a mortar and pestle to crush it.
20130526-095102.jpg Crush and ground the star anis until it is reduced to a powder.
Mix the dry ingredients, adding the baking soda, cinnamon and ground star anis to the rye flour. Zest the orange and add at this time as well.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the honey and hot water until you obtain a homogenous liquid mixture.
Add the honey-water to the dry ingredients and mix well to fully incorporate into a smooth batter. The consistency should be thick.
20130526-095246.jpg Oil a baking pan with some grape seed oil and pour batter in the pan. Place in the preheated oven to bake.
20130526-095437.jpg Check after about 30 minutes with a toothpick or the tip of a knife by inserting it into the center of the bread. The stick should come out clean. This bread remains dense and does not rise much. Once cooked, let sit for a few minutes out of the oven until cool enough to handle. Turn the baking pan upside down and the bread should come out easily.
20130526-095534.jpg You might decorate with orange slices and cinnamon sticks. Cut in about 1/2 inch-thick slices. Enjoy!


Mussels in Orange, Tomato and Saffron Sauce

A pairing of simple and pure ingredients, where the acidity of the tomatoes and oranges plays with the aromatic sweetness of saffron. This is more of a sauce than a broth, which allows me to enjoy each bite with more generous serving of tomatoes. This consistency is great to serve as an appetizer.

The technical aspect of this recipe resides in peeling the tomatoes and removing the seeds for a smooth, velvety texture. If you wish to make an express version of this recipe, you can omit this step. However, when time allows, try to make this version and note the difference, mostly in texture.

2 – 2.5 lbs mussels
4 tomatoes
1 shallot
4 oranges or 1 cup orange juice
1 lemon
Fresh thyme
A few threads saffron
2 Tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Saffron has a unique and distinctive flavor. It is most widely known to be an essential ingredient of paella, and marries particularly well with seafood in general. It can also be used to flavor desserts. Because of its strong flavor, only a few threads suffice.

Peel and finely chop the shallot.

Mark the tomatoes with an X on top with the tip of a knife.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and plunge the tomatoes for 30 seconds.

Remove the tomatoes as soon as the skin around the X starts to separate.

Let them cool enough to handle. Peel them. That should be a very easy process.

Quarter them. Remove the seeds from each section under running water.

Place them in a colander as you go through the process and once they are all drained, chop them and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the chopped shallot and cook for about two-three minutes on medium heat.

Add the tomatoes and orange juice. Continue to cook on medium-low heat…

… until the tomatoes are almost puréed.
Add thyme and saffron and let sit to infuse the flavors. Now the sauce is ready for the mussels. Raising the heat to high, and when the sauce starts bubbling, add the mussels at once. Only add the ones that are closed and discard the ones that are open. Cover for a few minutes until all the mussels open under the heat. Now discard the ones that remain closed.

20130517-220550.jpg Season lightly as necessary. Mix to serve and add lemon juice. Enjoy!

Pomegranate, Avocado and Brussels Sprouts salad

20130511-131448.jpg A quick, simple, colorful salad to present as an appetizer or side dish. Healthful with a combination of raw Brussels sprouts, avocado, pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts, in a singular lemon vinaigrette.

20130511-131730.jpg Ingredients:
2 lbs Brussels sprouts
1/2 pomegranate
1/2 avocado
3/4 cup pine nuts
1-2 Tbsp savory or thyme
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

20130511-131910.jpgWash the Brussels sprouts and cut off the stem ends to remove the outer leaves. Place in a large salad bowl.

20130511-131951.jpgKeep cutting off the stems another two-three times, each time removing more leaves and getting to the inner leaves.

20130511-132030.jpgEventually, you will be left with the hearts of the Brussels sprouts.

20130511-132114.jpg Slice the Brussels sprouts hearts thinly.
Personally I like using a classic 7-inch Santuko knife for almost everything. I find it most versatile and easy to maneuver with precision.

20130511-132228.jpg Add the thinly sliced pieces to the large, beautiful leaves in the bowl.

20130511-132306.jpg Cut the half avocado horizontally, then in thick vertical slices, and finally, cut more thick vertical slices perpendicularly. This way you will have ‘cubes’ of avocado. Add to the salad bowl.

20130511-132354.jpg Cut the pomegranate in half with a knife, vertically.

20130511-132429.jpgWorking with half the pomegranate and placing it over the salad bowl, pick the skin on the sides to expose a cluster of seeds in between the white membranes. This way you can easily detach each individual seed. Be gentle, as the seeds can be crushed and burst.

20130511-132720.jpgKeep assembling the salad this way, adding the pure and fresh ingredients one after the other.

20130511-132516.jpg Measure the raw pine nuts.

20130511-132624.jpg Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium low – low heat. This is the tricky part of preparing this dish as you must devote your attention to this task only at this time. It might seem slow at first, but just watch and occasionally toss the nuts around as they slowly begin to turn golden brown. The darker they become, the more intense the nutty flavor they develop, but they should not burn.

20130511-132809.jpgThe moment they are ready, stop the heat and transfer to a room temperature dish. This is the crucial moment where a few extra seconds will burn the nuts. The oil content of the pine nuts is high, and once they reach a certain temperature it is just a matter of seconds before they burn.20130511-132857.jpgPrepare a light lemon vinaigrette by placing the savory or thyme leaves, in a small bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

20130511-133029.jpg Pour the vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts over the salad and toss all the ingredients well and gently. Enjoy!

Strawberry Soup with Mint and Lemongrass

Spring is here… Or at least, the weather showed us a sneak preview for a couple days, enough to ignite some thoughts about seasonal fruits. Strawberries! Always a reminder of the sunshine bathed fields of strawberries of my childhood. One day they were still greenish white, the next day pink, then bright shiny red. A lovely sight was seeing our turtle pet returning from her morning walk with strawberry juice all over her face. Then we ran to the fields to verify which strawberries had her signature. It was a fun time. Each week a new type of strawberry Mara, Gariguette, Ciflorette, Charlotte or other, each with their distinctive shape and flavor. Be sure to sample them on your next visit to France in strawberry season. For now, as much as such varieties are not available here in Chicago, I like to exalt the fragrance of the strawberries by preparing them as a dessert soup with lemongrass, mint and vanilla.

20130502-094404.jpg A welcome sign of spring. Enjoy as a light dessert, or snack, or accompaniment for brunch.

20130502-094543.jpg Ingredients:
2 lb strawberries
1/2 oz fresh mint leaves
1 lemongrass stick
1/4 cup honey
1 cup water
1 lemon
1 vanilla bean

20130502-094835.jpg Remove the mint leaves from the stems, press the lemon to extract the juice and cut the lemongrass in 2-3 inch pieces. Reserve a few mint leaves for decoration.

20130502-094954.jpg Cut the vanilla in half lengthwise and scrape the pasty seeds with a knife.

20130502-105719.jpg Prepare the syrup by placing the fresh mint leaves, cut lemongrass, honey, water, lemon, and vanilla bean and seeds into a medium saucepan.

20130503-153233.jpg Bring to a boil and simmer.

20130503-153606.jpg Meanwhile rinse the strawberries, cut the stems and leaves and place them in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Reserve a few strawberries for decoration.

20130503-153828.jpg Process until you obtain a very smooth puree, and pour into a bowl.

20130503-153947.jpg Remove the syrup from the stove and pour it through a strainer into the pureed strawberries. Discard the cooked leaves, lemongrass and vanilla bean.

20130503-154149.jpg Mix well. At this time it can be prepared ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

20130503-165358.jpg For the presentation, cut the stem and leaves off the strawberries at an angle, forming a V cut into the heart of the strawberry. Then slice them to obtain heart-shaped pieces.

20130503-165630.jpg Display the heart-shaped slices on top of the strawberry soup, along with a few mint leaves and serve at once. Enjoy!